Explain the significance of the following quote from The Scarlet Letter: "There was a fire in her [Pearl] and throughout her; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate...

Explain the significance of the following quote from The Scarlet Letter: "There was a fire in her [Pearl] and throughout her; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment." 

(Hawthorne's strategy and message)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In another passage of Chapter VII, Hawthorne describes Pearl, who is dressed in a "crimson velvet tunic" of scarlet with "flourishes of gold thread," as the "scarlet letter in another form:  the scarlet letter endowed with life!"  Pearl is Hester's sin of passion made incarnate; she is, indeed, the product of the fire in the hearts of Hester and Pearl's father-- "the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment." For, it is probable that Hester and her lover both have sought each other in their desire for some solace from the grey and stringent life of the Puritan community. What at first may have been a friendship then, of necessity, developed into a relationship in which "unpremeditated" passion occurs.

And, it logically follows that little Pearl, the incarnation of Hester's sin and as the "offshoot" of such passion, is "a dauntless child," who makes sudden rushes at others, resembling a pestilence, "the scarlet fever or some such half-fledged angel of judgment," who just as capriciously returns to her mother and smiles into her face. As such a being who is this "fire," the living version of the scarlet letter, Pearl appearance and actions underscore her mother's proud and defiant acceptance of her punishment, a pride that was manifested in Chapter II as she stood on the scaffold.  Clearly, Hester has Pearl as the crimson symbol of her sin, "the offshoot" of her passion. 

dhollweg eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Hester and Pearl walk from their "solitary cottage", Hawthorne characterizes the little girl, both physically and personally. The author captures her red "garb", her luxuriance, her beauty her brown hair, which will eventually turn black as she grows older. It is in this moment when he uses the metaphor of the "fire in her and throughout her; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment." Pearl, here, is compared to an "offshoot" that has "fire" in her. This fire is the fire of passion; afterall, she is the child born out of wedlock. And it is no mistake that Hawthorne uses "offshoot" vs. "offspring," which would be a more endearing term, marking a closeness, a familial term. Offshoot is insensitive, impersonal, almost inhuman. Already, the author establishes a crude sense of Pearl, an abomination to their principles and religion. Pearl is an offshoot full of fire, connecting to the demonic nature Hawthorne has already alluded to. Even in this moment of the novel, Pearl is said to want to be held, then immediately put down by Hester. She is impulsive, indecisive, volatile, fiery, much like a moment of sexual passion. So it makes sense that she is the product of such a demonic act.

etjoslin | Student

Pearl is characterized throughout the book as inhuman. Called elfish, impish, satanic, demon-child, bird-like, etc. she consistently appears as something only with a human external until the end of the novel. As the "unpremiditated offshoot of a passionate moment", she serves less as a character and more as a symbol: Pearl is the embodyment of passion. Her actions are spontaneous and genuine, her emotions are uncontrolled, and she is entirely uninhibited in her actions. As the result of a sin of passion, she takes on the traits of her conception. The "fire" in her is a motif throughout the novel. The conflicting sides of dark and light, sunshine and fire, gold and iron, marketplace and forest preside throughout the book to create a feeling of the two seperate spheres. Hawthorne characterizes Pearl with fire here to link her to one side versus the other: Pearl, as she appears in this moment in the novel at least, is unmoral, inconsiderate, uncontrollable fire. She is a part of the secretive sphere in Hester's life.

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The Scarlet Letter

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