What does Pearl convey in The Scarlet Letter?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The character of Pearl in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter conveys different emotions in various characters in the novel, all depending on who interacts with her, and what feelings emerge in Pearl about her immediate surroundings. 


When it comes to her mother, Hester, Pearl conveys the natural feelings of tenderness and love that any child conveys in a parent. However, she also conveys fear and doubt in Hester due to her obstinate, loud, and passive-aggressive behavior. Pearl is odd with her mother because she is meant to represent an extension of her mother's "sin". Pearl purposely reminds Hester of the scarlet letter by mentioning it, pointing at it, or mocking it. The resulting uneasiness that sparks in Hester seems to be pleasing to Pearl. So strange is she that Hester is even prompted to ask Pearl in chapter 6 "who sent her", in a way that places Pearl in the form of a supernatural being.


Dimmesdale, who confesses to be naturally dissonant with children, cannot come to terms with what Pearl is meant to represent in his life. As we know, Pearl and Dimmesdale fear each other in the forest, are weary of each other's presence, and do not feel comfortable up until the moment that Dimmesdale finally confesses at the scaffold that he is Pearl's father.

The village

Being that she is a child of infamy, Pearl gets the automatic ignonimity that sets her and her mother aside in the community. Naturally, this conveys upon the people who see her with Hester the sense of shame and sin of which Hester continuously suffers. However, Pearl defends herself as well as Hester from her tormentors quite aggressively, even making them take off in fear.

The eldermen (magistrates)

Yet, since Hester is a woman of strong character and of unique expression, she dresses Pearl up in a flamboyant way which attracts even more attention to the child. During the visit to the magistrates in Chapter 7, Pearl conveyed in the eldermen surprise, tenderness, and shock at seeing the way that this superbly dressed little girl acted so strangely when asked questions about her origin, about God, and about who she is. The shock that Pearl produces in the magistrates is only softened by Dimmesdale's intervention in defense of Hester's good skills as a mother and her right to raise Pearl, even if without a father.

The sailors

In chapter 22 of The Scarlet Letter, Hester had made plans to escape to Europe with Dimmesdale and Pearl. The sailors with whom she made the plans were rogue, wild men who seemed to be comfortable with Hester and were respectful enough. It is interesting to point that Pearl also conveyed in them a strange fascination which was also evident in the rest of the attending people in Election Day.

The Puritans looked on, and, if they smiled, were none the less inclined to pronounce the child a demon offspring, from the indescribable charm of beauty and eccentricity that shone through her little figure, and sparkled with its activity.

Her peculiar dress, her curious actions, and her whimsical and strange movements make Pearl look like a "rare bird" that one of the sailors even tried to catch to steal a kiss from her. So enthralling can Pearl be that she smittens the world around her when she wants, but is also able to make the world around her fear her with just as much strength. Like her name implies, Pearl is meant to represent a rare, unique being.

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The Scarlet Letter

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