Why did Hawthorne choose the name Pearl for Hester's child?

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cldbentley | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel The Scarlet Letter, the protagonist, Hester Prynne, gives the name Pearl to the daughter she has out of wedlock.  In Chapter 6, the novel's narrator tells the reader that Hester names her daughter Pearl

not as a name expressive of her aspect, which had nothing of the calm, white, unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the comparison. But she named the infant "Pearl," as being of great price--purchased with all she had--her mother's only treasure.

Here, the reader is clearly informed that the choice of names is no mere coincidence, but is very much intended to be seen as symbolism. 

As you probably know, a pearl is formed when an irritant enters the shell of an oyster.  In order to protect itself from the foreign object, the oyster coats it with layers of the same material of which its shell is made.  In order for a pearl to be discovered and collected, the oyster must give up its life.

While Hester does not sacrifice her physical life in The Scarlet Letter, her conception of a child outside of wedlock forces her to give up her personal life; Hester refuses to tell who Pearl's father is and must live without the comfort of an open relationship with Reverend Dimmesdale.  She also relinquishes her social life and must wear the scarlet "A" every day.  While Hester loves Pearl dearly and does consider her her most precious treasure, she also sacrifices her happiness for her daughter.

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