What is the final fate of Hester and Pearl in The Scarlet Letter?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a rather ironic ending, Pearl, the "elf-child" becomes the most human in the final scaffold scene.  Having inherited property from Chillingworth, she has become the "richest heiress of her day, in the New World."  With such riches, she may have married well, but her mother has taken her away to Europe. Hawthorne narrates,

none knew...whether the elf-child had gone thus untimely into a maiden grave, or whether her wild, rich nature had been softened and subdued, and made capable of a woman's gentle happiness.

Nonetheless, Hawthorne hints that Pearl has lived on in happiness and wealth, married well, had a child, and remained as an affectionate and dutiful daughter to Hester.  This making of Pearl into one so human and fortune may be Hawthorne's effort to give his novel a hopeful ending to a dark narrative, yet, at the same time, the reader is aware that little Pearl was but a helpless symbol of Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale's sins.

The main focus, however, is Hester.  While the scarlet letter "has not done its office," it has become part of her identity.  For, after having lived in Europe, Hester returns to her former domicile, stoops and picks up the letter and resumes wearing it voluntarily.  The scarlet letter, ironically, has become like the hanging crucifix on a nun's bosom, imparting a kind of sacredness.  Through her suffering, Hester has gleaned wisdom.  She bears the standard that signifies a new hope:

In Heaven's own time a new truth would be revealed, in order to establish the whole relation between man and woman on a surer ground of mutual happiness....Earlier in life, Hester had vainly imagined that she might be the destined prohetess, but had long since recognised the impossibility that any mission of divine and mysterious truth should be confided to a woman sustained with sin...and lifelong sorrow....the angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman...pure, and beautiful; and wise,...not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy; and showing how sacred love should make us happy....

That Hawthorne retains some of his Puritan heritage is evidenced in the heavy price Hester is made to pay for having allowed her passions to be satiated.  Her grave has a space between it and Dimmesdale's although there is one tombstone as it is in "vain to hope that [they] could meet hereafter, in an everlasting and pure reunion." 

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Their fate is never explicitly stated but is hinted at through various reports that people hear and are spread throug New England.

The rumors include things like the fact that Pearl has married into a royal family in England.  Hester in the mean time returns to Salem as she must do her penance there.  She helps to council people that are suffering from family troubles, obviously being particularly drawn to help women suffering in the various problems of women at the time and talking often about hope for a better future for them.

She dies there in Salem and is buried with the mark of an A.

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The Scarlet Letter

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