What does Pearl notice as a baby?"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," as Hester stands, scorned, upon the scaffold before the sanctimonious Puritans, she significantly

clasp[s] the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress.

From the beginning of the novel, Pearl is inextricably connected to the scarlet letter. And as an infant while her mother stoops over the cradle, her eyes catch sight of the glimmering gold embroidery around the letter.  Hawthorne writes,

But that first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was--shall we say it?--the scarlet letter on Hester's bosom.

This passage is extremely significant as Pearl, acting as a symbol of her mother's passionate sin, demonstrates in herself strong moods--uncontrollable laughter, fierce temper, and the "bitterest hatred that can be suppose to rankle in a childish bosom."  She is an "imp" who delights in exposing the scarlet letter by pointing to its distortion in the breastplate of Governor Bellingham, throwing flowers at it, and mimicking it upon her own little bosom.  At the brook, Pearl refuses to cross until her mother replaces the cast-off letter.

Thus, Pearl becomes a symbol herself, a symbol of what the scarlet A represents: Hester's sin, Hester's passion, and Hester's connection to Arthur Dimmesdale.

Interestingly, another thing that Pearl has noticed as an infant is the rosebush outside the grey iron door of the prison.  For, later in Chapter VIII when she is questioned at Governor Bellingham's mansion about who has made her by the strict Puritan minister, Reverend Wilson, Pearl rebelliously replies that she has not been made, but was "plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison door."  This statement indicates the passionate and noncompliant nature of Pearl that is never subdued, symbolic of Hester's lasting inner spirit, for the "letter has not done its office," as Hawthorne writes near the end of his narrative.  

dseals3 | Student

The first thing Pearl saw in her infancy was the scarlet letter. As a baby she even reached up and touched the letter.

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The Scarlet Letter

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