What exactly do you think Hawthorne is trying to tell us about Pearl in The Scarlet Letter?Throughout the entire novel, the author compares Pearl to faeries, elves, imps and other sorts of figures...

What exactly do you think Hawthorne is trying to tell us about Pearl in The Scarlet Letter?

Throughout the entire novel, the author compares Pearl to faeries, elves, imps and other sorts of figures to give the reader a stronger sense of pearls personality.

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nathaniel Hawthorne gives us a lot of information and commentary on Pearl throughout The Scarlet Letter, and it's up to the reader to decide how he or she feels about her.  Pearl is a much more complex character than she might seem at first.

You've mentioned all the kind of "other-worldly" references to this daughter of Hester and Arthur.  Clearly, his use of those words and images is an attempt to paint Pearl as a creature beyondearthly.  Yet she is also quite in touch with the realities of life.  She plays rough sometimes (as when she crippled a bird while playing or my favorite, when she throws mud at her childish tormentors), and she's well aware of the severities of this Puritan community, as when she plays make-believe and creates the elders and other stern figures of the town. 

She's a typical spoiled child, throwing tantrums (at the brookside) and taking advantage of her mother's lenience (as she traipses through the cemetery or throws cockles at her mother's bosom).  Yet she has an innate sense of justice, asking multiple times if Arthur will stand with them on the scaffold in the daytime.  When he refuses, she shows him no sympathy.

In short, Pearl as a young girl is a product of an illicit relationship and nothing about her life is normal.  Just like her clothing, Pearl is an outward embodiment of the turmoil and guilt in her parents' lives.  Once she genuinely kisses her father one last time on the scaffold, Hawthorne tells us it's as if a curse has been broken.  We now have hope that she will grow and mature into a loving, caring adult.  The evidence of that is slim, but we know she married well and apparently for love, that she was quite rich and had no economic worries, and that she still cared for her mother--all signs of a relatively normal life and one which we might not expect, given her early years.  This speaks to the bondage of guilt and sin and the freedom of unconditional love.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is certainly an innuendo that is very powerful when Nathaniel Hawthorne compares Pearl to faeries, and imps. First, like you said, it reveals the challenging persona of Pearl. She is no soft-spoken, sweet, nor loving little girl but instead someone who has an ulterior mysterious upper hand in wit, malice, and imagination. The innuendo with this is twice-fold: First, it is a direct mention that Pearl is a daughter of sin. However, you may ask: But she is the daughter of a clergyman and a good woman? Why would she be an imp?

This is when the second innuendo comes: Hawthorne so attacked the hypocrisy of the uber religious Puritans (and people like them) that he even threw in the notion that, hey, even clergymen can sin, impregnate women, abandon them, lie flat out to their followers, keep enjoying the benefits of the church and....have evil children.

So that is definitely a message that wants to be sent clearly and directly not only to the readers, but to those who act holier than thou and claim to be there for a love for God and are actually double dealing liars.

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The Scarlet Letter

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