In The Scarlet Letter, explain the symbolism of Pearl.

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Of course, it is highly significant that not only does Hester choose to embroider the "A" on her breast with such beauty, but also that she calls the fruit of her "sin" Pearl - gained at great price. Pearl in the novel is seen as an "elf-child", a denizen of the world of romance, rather than a socially oriented individual of the kind encountered in realist novels. The child's laughter and tears are extreme responses to situations, signalling a lack of proportion that makes social intercourse and reciprocity difficult. Of course, the fact that Pearl lives in isolation does not help her social interaction.

In the novel, Pearl seems to act as an incarnation of physical pleasure and imaginative freedom, standing in direct opposition to the Puritan way of life. Her vitality and attractiveness serve to highlight the limitations of the Puritan lifestyle, though her unruliness also indicates the dangers of uncontrolled indulgence. She is, after all, the living embodiment of the same illicit passion that led to the imposition of the scarlet "A." Significantly, her mother sustains her love for Pearl, the symbol of illicit passion, and that indicates Hester's staunch refusal to acknowledge her own act of sin in begetting Pearl, thus giving another sign that Hester refuses to be categorised and labelled as a sinner under the Puritan rules of conduct.

Pearl then arguably acts as a symbol of the forces of celebratory life-giving that oppose the bleak life-denying aspects of Puritanism which have caused both Pearl and her mother such grief.

Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question