How does Pearl feel towards Hester in The Scarlet Letter?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pearl's relationship with her mother is complex and puzzling, the result of the circumstances of her birth and her life in the Puritan colony. Pearl loves her mother and sometimes treats her with affection and tenderness. However, at other times she taunts Hester and seems to take pleasure in causing her distress. Always, the little girl shows a persistent and recurring fascination with the scarlet letter Hester wears. Hawthorne writes that as an infant, Pearl's earliest association with and memory of her mother was focused on the letter.

Pearl is the unwitting victim of Hester and Arthur's transgression. She grows up as a social outcast, frequently tormented by other children, and lives in the same circle of isolation that surrounds Hester. Hers is a lonely existence, but she grows to embrace the loneliness, living in a world of her own and finding pleasure in solitary games and acts of creative imagination. Pearl is confused by all she does not understand, including her own parentage, and this confusion is often expressed in anger, much of it aimed at her mother. Only at the conclusion of the novel when she is publicly acknowledged and embraced by her father does Pearl become "a human child." The anger and "otherness" drops away as she weeps.

The end of the novel includes information about Pearl's life as a woman in England. She marries well and has her own child. Gifts that arrived for Hester from England imply that Pearl's love for her mother survived and surpassed her confusing and difficult childhood:

But, through the remainder of Hester's life, there were indications that the recluse of the scarlet letter was the object of love and interest with some inhabitant of another land. Letters came, with armorial seals upon them, though of bearings unknown to English heraldry. In the cottage there were articles of comfort and luxury, such as Hester never cared to use, but which only wealth could have purchased, and affection have imagined for her. There were trifles, too, little ornaments, beautiful tokens of a continual remembrance, that must have been wrought by delicate fingers, at the impulse of a fond heart.

At the end of Hester's life, her daughter loved her without reservation and would have welcomed her into her home in England had Hester been willing to leave her cottage by the sea.

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The Scarlet Letter

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