What is significant about Pearl's treatment of Dimmesdale at the end of the narrative?The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
With her kiss bequeathed to Arthur Dimmesdale in Chapter XXIII, little Pearl finally becomes truly human. An impetuous "elf-child," an "imp," an "airy sprite" given to capricious and mischievous behavior in previous chapters Pearl both laughs uncontrollably and then has fits of temper, and has thrown burrs around her mother's scarlet letter and has refused to cross the brook. Certainly, there is something other-worldly about her until the events of Chapter XXIII bring her into the world of humanity on the scaffold.
Up until this point, Hawthorne has employed Pearl more as symbol than character. The obvious symbol of her parents' sin, Pearl at times
writhed in convulsion of....the moral agony which Hester Prynee had borne throughout the day.
In addition to representing the sin of Hester and the minister, Pearl has also been symbolic of the "warfare of Hester's spirit." Pearl plays an active part as symbol as her questions and actions torment her mother. For instance, in Chapter XVI, Pearl observes,
the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of somehting on your bosom.
With regard to Dimmesdale, Pearl is also a symbolic reminder of his sin. In the first scaffold scene, for example,
The poor baby..directed its hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, and held up its little arms....
An older Pearl articulates this desire to be recognized by Dimmesdale, asking him, "Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?" When Dimmesdale refuses, Pearl tries to pull away, and later complains, "Thou was not bold!--thou wast not true!"
However, in the final scaffold scene when Pearl kisses the minister's lips, Pearl's function as a symbol has been completed as Dimmesdale does take the final step in confessing his sin:
Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken....and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.
This is a huge moment for Pearl in The Scarlet Letter. She has wanted Arthur to stand with them out in the open on the platform for nearly her entire life, and the answer was always no. On this day he does so, in effect claiming both Pearl and her mother in front of the world. She may or may not understand all the implications and ramifications of this request, or even the complete significance of it. What she does know is that he has finally done what he should have, and it is a kind of epiphany for her. She gave him a kind of silly kiss on the hand once at the Governor's mansion; she wiped away his kiss from her forehead at the brook; and she refused him a kiss at the scaffold. Here, she finally offers him a genuine kiss, as of forgiveness, and "it's as if a spell had been broken." We know that Pearl was a bit of a wild child up to this point, and probably rightly so; after this, we know Pearl goes on to be a woman who lives a loving wife and mother and daughter.