What does Pearl represent and how does her temperament drive the action and the reader's understanding of The Scarlet Letter?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Pearl’s name, ironically, comes from the bible:  “a pearl of great price.”  Hester names her this because her birth came at great price to her mother.  Hester says she was “purchased with all she [Hester] had.”  Pearl is “the living Scarlet Letter;” the representation, in the flesh, of Hester and Dimmesdale’s sin.  Hester does her no favors by dressing her in beautiful clothing, mostly red and very noticeable.  When Pearl runs through the town, everyone notices her, some people point at her, and she knows, even at a young age, that she is somehow different.  Not even the children will play with her, as they have been warned that she is “unbaptized” and therefore somehow evil. 

Pearl’s temperament drives the novel’s action.  In fact, it is usually Pearl who acts as a catalyst for the action.  One example is in the “Elf-Child and the Minister” chapter when Pearl is being quizzed to find out if she should be taken from Hester.  When asked who made her, at first she refuses to answer, then “the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses, that grew by the prison-door.”  This causes the gentlemen to judge Hester very harshly, and it also causes Dimmesdale to defend Hester.  Later in the novel, every time she sees Dimmesdale, Pearl asks why he has his hand over his heart.  The reader, too, would like to know the answer to this question.  In a way, the reader and Pearl are in the same situation.  There are things going on and we need answers.  Pearl finds these answers out for us.  It is Pearl who asks if the minister will stand with them in daylight.  The reader also wants to know if Dimmesdale will ever acknowledge his child in public. 

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