What is the significance of Pearl's clothing in The Scarlet Letter?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the chapter entitled "Pearl," the narrator makes a particular point of talking about the way in which Hester dressed her daughter. What is so interesting about this is the way that there is a deliberate link made between the scarlet letter that Hester wears on her breast, that the reader is told is so lavishly and beautifully sewn on, and the way that Pearl, the fruit of that illicit adulterous union, is presented:

Her mother, with a morbid purpose that may be better understood hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be procured, and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore before the public eye.

Just as the scarlet "A" that Hester is forced to wear is turned by her skill with the needle into a symbol of beauty and finery, so Pearl, the illegitimate child of an illicit and unlawful union, is a figure of beauty and is arrayed in all finery by her mother. Far from being ashamed of her state and of her daughter, Hester Prynne seems almost to flaunt her in front of the society that has made her an outcast and branded both her and her daughter sinners. One way of viewing the appearance of Pearl therefore is to consider the way in which Hester Prynne subtlely challenges and subverts the rules and beliefs of the day through turning what is despised into things of beauty and value.