In Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, how does Pearl feel about the scarlet letter on her mothers chest?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Pearl is no normal child--she is referred to as "elf-child," "imp," or "airy sprite"--she is like other children in that she believes that what she has seen repeatedly is what is normal.  And, as a symbol of the passion between Hester Prynne and the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, it is to be expected that Pearl feel an affinity toward the scarlet letter upon her mother's bosom.  As an infant, her eye is caught by the brilliant embroidery of her mother's letter as Hester tends the baby.  In fact, it is "that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware." In Chapter IV of The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne writes that the infant

writhed in convulsions of pain, and was a forcible type in its little frame, of the moral agony which Hester Prynne had borne throughout the day [that Roger Chillingworth talks with her mother in the prison].

Pearl's feelings about her mother's symbol of shame reflect what Hester feels.  For, when she and her mother are at the estate of the governor for Hester's interview with him and the Reverend Mr. Wilson, Pearl shows Hester her letter reflected in a distorted manner in the breast plate of the governor's coat of armor, thus underscoring Hester's shame and embarrassment that day.

As she grows older Pearl sometimes torments Hester by pelting the scarlet letter with flowers, "covering the mother's breast with hurts for which she could find no balm in this world."  She adds to Hester's pain in Chapter X when she tosses the prickly burrs from a tall burdock that grows near the tomb "perhaps of Isaac Johnson himself," increasing Hester's agony in seeing Roger Chillingworth.

Clearly identifying with the scarlet letter in a later chapter, Pearl refuses to cross the brook in the forest over to Hester and Dimmesdale until her mother replaces it upon her breast.  At one point, she even kisses it, perhaps in an intuitive understanding that her mother's sin of passion has generated her mother's love for her.  After all, as Hawthorne writes in Chapter VII, Pearl is "the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life."

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The Scarlet Letter

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