How does Pearl's relationship to Dimmesdale change throughout the novel?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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Near the end of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale shares his feelings regarding little Pearl.

In Chapters 18 & 19, after Hester has told Dimmesdale that Roger Chillingworth is actually her husband, she and Arthur discuss plans to leave on the next ship—Hester, Arthur and Pearl. They can start a new life. Dimmesdale wonders that perhaps God has forgiven his past sin, and Hester is glowing—her face is filled with color (in stark contrast to her usual pale complexion) and her hair, loosened, gives her a look of renewed youth. As they speak of their daughter, Dimmesdale admits:

I have even been afraid of little Pearl!

Hester assures him that Pearl will love him, and she calls to the child. Arthur Dimmesdale sees her some distance off, describing her as "a bright-apparelled vision, in a sunbeam."

Dimmesdale admits to Hester his fear that his parentage might be seen in her face, giving him away as her father—but believes upon looking at her that she favors her mother. He feels guilty that he ever "dreaded" that she might look like him.

Hester warns Arthur to approach the child cautiously, showing no emotion—no "eagerness...nothing strange," for Pearl is not very tolerant of such behavior.

As the child approaches, Dimmesdale admits fear:

"Thou canst not think," said the minister, glancing aside at Hester Prynne, "how my heart dreads this interview, and yearns for it!"

He admits that children are not drawn to him: he makes babies cry. When Pearl stands on the other side of the brook, Dimmesdale asks Hester to hurry the child to them:

Pray hasten her; for this delay has already imparted a tremor to my nerves.

Ironically, the adult is nervous, while Pearl seems very much in control of herself—not at all fearful of Arthur Dimmesdale. When she sees her mother without the scarlet "A" pinned to her dress, and her hair down, she has a terrible tantrum. Hester replaces the letter and confines her hair. Dimmesdale is distressed to see "this passion in a child...Pacify her if thou lovest me!" Hester does as asked, and Pearl is calmed, but she will not show any consideration toward Dimmesdale.

In Chapter 23, "The Revelation," after Dimmesdale has delivered his sermon on Election Day, he becomes very weak, and on the scaffold where he spoke, he calls Hester and Pearl to come to him. Pearl throws her arms around him, clutching his knees, somehow sensing the honor in what he is about to do. Hester is reluctant and Chillingworth even tries to stop her movement, but Dimmesdale dismisses him as evil—in league with "the enemy."

Dimmesdale's sacrificial move at this point is for Hester, and for Pearl: here he admits his part in Hester's sin. He says to Hester:

"For thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order," said the minister; "and God is merciful! Let me now do the will which He hath made plain before my sight. For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste to take my shame upon me."

This will relieve some of the burden which Hester has carried alone for the last eight years. This shows not only his love for Hester, but his love for his daughter as well.

Dimmesdale reminds Pearl (as he is dying) that she would not kiss him before. Now he asks if she will:

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken...

As Dimmesdale is dying, he asks his child for a kiss, a sign of his love for her; she gives it freely.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The incarnation of Hester Prynne's and Arthur Dimmesdale's sins of passion, Pearl stands more as a symbol than a character.  She is a mixture of emotions, laughing at one moment, sullen at another. In fact, her behavior is so unusual that she is referred to as "imp," "elf-child," and "airy sprite." In Chapter VIII when the Reverend Wilson asks the three-year-old Pearl who made her, she impetuously replies that she was not made, but was picked by her mother from the rose-bush by the prison door.  When the old minister is shocked, Hester appeals to the Reverend Dimmesdale to speak on her behalf; as he does so, little Pearl comes to him, takes his hand in both of hers and lays her cheek against it--much to Hester's surprise for she is not an affectionate child. But, intuitively the child recognizes her father. The minister lays his hand on the child's head, looks nervously around, then kisses Pearl's brow.

After this occurrence, Pearl does not see Dimmesdale for a long time. Then, when she encounters him in Chapter XII in the second scaffold scene as he calls to her and Hester to stand with him on the scaffold, little Pearl whispers,

"Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?"

When the minister replies that one day he will, but not tomorrow, Pearl laughs and tries to pull her hand from his. Again she laughs when the minister repeats his words and looks at him with "a naughty smile" and an "elfish" expression. When Dimmesdale shivers at the sight of Roger Chillingworth, Pearl tells the minister she knows who Chillingworth is, then she laughs again, retorting after he scolds her for mocking him,

"Thou wast not bold!--thou wast not true!....Thou wouldst not promise to take my hand, and mother's hand, to-morrow noontide!" 

As she grows, Pearl seems more and more unearthly in character as an active and forceful symbol, focusing more and more on the scarlet letter, by pelting her mother's breast with flowers and another time placing a seaweed A upon her mother.  In Chapter XVI as Pearl sees Dimmesdale approaching, also acting more now as a living conscience, she inquires, "Is it the Black Man?"  In Chapter XVIII, when Hester casts off the letter after talking with Dimmesdale in the forest, Pearl refuses to cross the brook to her mother until she returns the letter to her breast. She also refuses to kiss Dimmesdale. 

Finally, in Chapter XXIII, as Dimmesdale publicly invites Hester and Pearl onto the scaffold with him in an admission of his sin and recognition of his child, Pearl gains in humanity and sheds her sprite-like characteristics of impetuous behavior.  Dimmesdale holds the hand of "the sin-born child" and living conscience and asks her if she will kiss him now that they are together on the scaffold.  She does so, and

[A] spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.

With the trinity of the family formed, Pearl has acknowledged her father as she did as a three-year-old.  Her humanity is established and her father admits his sin, so now Pearl can become a woman. With his admission of his sin of passion, Dimmesdale has given Pearl this new human life of joy and sorrow.


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The Scarlet Letter

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