In The Scarlet Letter, how does the scarlet letter illustrate the effects that follow from Hestor's isolation from society?Compare how relationships and rebellion caused Hester and Pearl to make...

In The Scarlet Letter, how does the scarlet letter illustrate the effects that follow from Hestor's isolation from society?

Compare how relationships and rebellion caused Hester and Pearl to make sacrifices in their lives

Expert Answers

Want to remove ads?

Get ad-free questions with an eNotes 48-hour free trial.

Try It Free No Thanks
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter XIII of The Scarlet Letter, as the narrator Hawthorne comments, "The scarlet letter had not done its office." Meant to elicit a revelation of her partner in sin in Chapter II, it has brought only refusal from Hester; intended as "a living sermon against sin" and the "vileness and blackness" of her iniquity until her repentance "may avail to take the scarlet letter off [her]breast," Hester wears her letter to the end, even when no longer required.

And, it is because of her isolation that Hester clings to that which has brought her so much shame. In order to retain any self-dignity, Hester must turn this symbol into something of meaning for her; otherwise, it continues the destruction evidenced by her hair's losing its beauty, her face its vivacity. Later in the narrative, after Hester has comforted the ailing and the dying, if someone along the path of her return home desires to speak, she points to the letter on her bosom and quietly passes, inadvertently encouraging people to reinterpret the symbol as meaning "Able" or even "Angel," as an angel of mercy. 

So connected to her self-image is this letter of scarlet that her baby Pearl, symbolic of the warfare in the soul of Hester, instinctively recognizes the significance and time and time again points to it, forms burrs in its shape, pelts the letter with flowers.  When the breastplate at governor Bellinham's exaggerates and distorts this letter into an overpowering and horrible shape, it is Pearl who points at it. Pearl's free spirit and rebellion also effect the confession of Reverend Dimmesdale's and his spiritual redemption. For, it is Pearl who repeatedly insists upon his public acknowledgement of his sin as she inquires if the minister will return from the forest with her mother and her hand in hand, or if he will hold out his hand on Election Day. As the procession has passed, Pearl declares that if she had noticed the minister, she would have demanded his recognition:

"I would have run to him, and bid him kiss me now, before all the people...." 

The isolation of Hester and Pearl, thus, leads the mother and daughter to lead odd lives.  Nevertheless, this odd way of life leads Hester to accept her punishment and become more independent, while Pearl, the incarnation of Hester's sin, ironically effects her mother's salvation as supported by Hester's own words to Mistress Hibbins in Chapter VIII,

"Had they taken her from me, I would willingly have gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black Man's book too...."

as well as that of her father's, rather than the condemnation for which it has been intended. This once dark symbol becomes an illuminator, 

a positive until it adorns the grave built for her and Dimmesdale, finally together under its watch.


Read the study guide:
The Scarlet Letter

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question