What evidence can be used to develop a position of defending this assertion?
In chapter 16 of the scarlet letter, the narrator, using Pearl as an example of humankind in general, asserts that people are not truly "humanized" or capable of sympathy for others until they are deeply touched by grief.
The Reverend Dimmesdale is an example of this assertion. For, before he sins and is tortured by his sin, he is perceived as "ethereal," "angelic." His subtle, emotional admission of sin in one of his sermons then causes the congregation to become endeared to him.
This recognition of sin is what makes one human. Hawthorne writes, "It contributes greatly towards a man's moral health, to be brought to..individuals unlike himself...he must go out of himself to appreciate." Dimmesdale goes outside his own being when he sees himself as part of the world of other sinners, a common man, not the highly educated, isolated one that he was before a sin of passion.
The instrument of D.'s as well as Hester's admission of guilt and its accompanying grief is Pearl. In the first scaffold scene, she innocently looks at her father when Hester is asked to name her lover. She later asks Hester on Election Day, "will he hold out both his hand to me, as when thou ledst me to him from the brookside?" It is Pearl who insists that Hester pick up the cast off letter from the brook. Through her acceptance of this punishment, Hester is thus saved and she and Pearl are both humanized as a result. When Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with his family and confesses, Pearl kisses him; she loves him just as Jesus loved the sinner on the cross. This is humanity--the admission of sin and its grief and the demonstration of sympathy for others.