How are the scarlet letter and Pearl alike?

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mmms1981 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Pearl and the scarlet letter are both instances of the open symbolism prevalent in Hawthorne’s romance, where a one-to-one correspondence between symbols and reality is not to be found. In fact, there is a sense of instability, an impossibility to find a standard meaning for symbolic elements, as it will be argued in what follows.

To begin with, it becomes easily apparent that Pearl, whose character is more open to interpretation than any other in the novel, functions primarily as a symbol.  On the one hand, she represents Nature itself. She embodies transcendental values –wilderness, intuition, beauty, love, passion– and, from a Puritan perspective, she is also a symbol of sin, in as much as she is the outcome of a guilty passion, and, besides, has a passionate nature, which is potentially dangerous. On the other hand, Pearl also represents truth. Her real function is to provoke the adult characters in the book.

As far as the scarlet letter is concerned, the letter is not only a symbol for Hester’s sin, but also a symbol for Hester herself. As it can be remarked, the letter’s significance shifts as time passes. Although originally intended to mark Hester as an adulterer, the “A” eventually becomes indeterminate, to the point that, according to the Native Americans who come to watch the Election Day pageant, it marks Hester as a person of status.

In any case, the confronting versions or interpretations for the symbols provoke in Hawthorne’s novel a collapse of hermeneutic frame. This is a response both to Puritanism -according to which everything could be interpreted with the help of the Bible-, and Transcendentalism, according to which everything could be interpreted in connection with Nature. The instability of both Pearl and the scarlet letter as symbols calls into question people’s inability to use symbols for ideological support.


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