In the following passage from The Scarlet Letter, identify the author's purpose and follow that up with support from an example of figurative language, and explain how that connects to the...

In the following passage from The Scarlet Letter, identify the author's purpose and follow that up with support from an example of figurative language, and explain how that connects to the purpose: 

"This outward mutability indicated, and did not more than fairly express, the various properties of her inner life. Her nature appeared to possess depth, too, as well as variety; but-or else Hester's fears deceived her-it lacked reference and adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being, whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder; or with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered. Hester could only account for the child's character-and even then, most vaguely and imperfectly-by recalling what she herself had been, during that momentous period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spirtual world, and her bodily frame from its material of earth. The mothers impassioned state had been the medium though which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of Crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the intemperate light, of the intervening substance. Above all, the warfare of Hester's spirit at that epoch, was perpetuated in Pearl. She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, and the flight ones of her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. They were now illuminated by the morning radiance of a young child's disposition, but, later in the day of early existence, might be prolific of the storm and whirlwind."

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The passage that you have indicated has the purpose to describe the nature of Pearl, Hester's daughter, from a variety of perspectives:

  • her nature as a child of "sin"
  • Pearl's own personality
  • her nature as an "elfin", or a child of the devil, which is what Puritans would have declared her to be
  • her nature as the daughter of a woman of Hester's disposition

A lot of figurative language is used precisely because the concept of a child having a lost soul is an abstract idea and, as such, is better described using metaphor and similes.

Moreover, other topics that are touched upon in the passage, such as conception and inherited traits,  are either too scientific to make an interesting read, or too sensitive for the time this novel is published (1850). The author would need to dress up and decorate the topic to sell it appropriately to the audience. Very seldom would a Victorian audience react positively to a novel about children born out of wedlock, adultery with a priest and elfish children. 

Back to the novel, here are some examples of how figurative language is used to describe this peculiar little girl thus serving the purpose of the passage.

Pearl as a child of sin:

This outward mutability indicated, and did not more than fairly express, the various properties of her inner life.

This basically means that Pearl was prone to switch moods and turn from "hot to cold". It states that these swings may have been a manifestation of her inner turmoil, since she comes from a chaotic origin.

Pearl as Pearl 

Her nature appeared to possess depth, too, as well as variety; but-or else Hester's fears deceived her-it lacked reference and adaptation to the world into which she was born. 

Here the author is saying that Pearl had substance as an individual. This indicates that her life does have a purpose, and that she is not an empty shell without conscience or emotions like a sociopath would be. However, she is unable to control her wild nature. All this is indicative (again) of a chaotic turmoil inside. 

Pearl as the daughter of a woman like Hester:

Hester could only account for the child's character-and even then, most vaguely and imperfectly-by recalling what she herself had been, during that momentous period while Pearl was imbibing her soul from the spiritual world, and her bodily frame from its material of earth.

This passage is very delicate in nature because it talks about the moment of conception. Pearl "imbibing her soul" refers to the exact moment when Pearl came to live in Hester's womb. This is telling because it shows that Hester was herself in turmoil when she was involved with Dimmesdale. A lot of questions about their relationship come up from this because Hester's state of mind during her relationship is never explained in the novel. 

The mothers impassioned state had been the medium though which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of Crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the intemperate light, of the intervening substance

More insight on Hester. She was in an impassioned state, which means that she was really swept away by Dimmesdale. This unmeasured passion, and the lack of morality of her parents, means that Pearl also inherited their sins.

The crimson and gold represent the temptations that Hester and Arthur succumbed to. The ensuing pregnancy would be the product of their indiscretion. Pear is, hence, a child of sin. Her existence came inadvertently, carelessly, and perhaps even accidentally. We know that Hester and Dimmesdale did not "plan" for this child. Pearl was, indeed, a hindrance as well as the ultimate evidence of breaking godly rules. 

Above all, the warfare of Hester's spirit at that epoch, was perpetuated in Pearl. She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, and the flight ones of her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. 

Here is more evidence of the purpose of the passage to describe Pearl as the daughter of a woman of Hester's disposition. Seems that Hester was also "wild" and "moody" and "gloomy" prior to Pearl. Pearl has more nature than nurture when it comes to her mood. She seems to have inherited all of Hester's maladies and, perhaps, even her father's own strange behaviors. 

Pearl as a child of sin 

They were now illuminated by the morning radiance of a young child's disposition, but, later in the day of early existence, might be prolific of the storm and whirlwind."

The passage concludes that Pearl needs some fixing up soon or else she will get worse. Judging from her parents, we can safely argue that she has a lot of instability that has naturally been transferred on to her from the nature of her own parents. A weak upbringing, the lack of a father, and her mother's bad reputation has put Pearl at odds with the world on several occasions. 

It is interesting that all inheritance is attributed to Hester and not Dimmesdale. It would have been much more interesting if Hawthorne had given us more insight of the man's true personality, or of his activities prior to his service as ministers. Perhaps then we could have had a full picture of the girl. 

Sources:

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