The Scarlet Letter Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 19 Summary and Analysis

Hester tells Dimmesdale that he will learn to love Pearl as her father. He has been afraid of showing any affection or special consideration toward her, because of their situation, but he must admit she's a beautiful child. For the first time, he and Hester look upon her together as her parents. Hester calls Pearl over to speak to Dimmesdale, but Pearl hesitates. For seven years, Pearl has been her mother's only companion, and she's confused by the sudden presence of Dimmesdale in their lives. Instead of heeding her mother's call, she stands on the opposite side of the brook, staring at her parents. Seeing the scarlet letter in the grass, Pearl points at Hester's chest, furious. Pearl stamps her feet and throws a terrible tantrum until Hester finally picks up the scarlet letter and pins it to her clothes. "Now thou art my mother indeed!" Pearl cries, as if she didn't recognize her mother without the letter.

Finally, Pearl comes to her mother's side, kissing Hester, then kissing the scarlet letter. Dimmesdale likewise kisses Pearl on the forehead, but Pearl, jealous of his relationship with Hester and irritated by his refusal to stand with them in public that day, runs to the brook and washes off the kiss. This is the end of their "interview," which can be thought of as an audition where Dimmesdale and Pearl try out the roles of father and daughter.

Personification

Hawthorne personifies the babbling brook as one with a "little heart" that collects sad tales.
 
Simile
 
When Hester calls to Pearl, she shouts, "Thou canst leap like a young deer!" This simile again likens the girl to an animal, emphasizing her wildness and, in this case, her youthful grace.
 
Symbols
 
The Brook. This brook marks the symbolic divide between the wild natural world Pearl inhabits and the solemn real world of her parents. When Hester removed the scarlet letter, she made that solemn real world a brighter, happier place where Hester's passionate nature becomes obvious. Pearl balks at this change and refuses to cross the brook unless Hester puts on the scarlet letter. In effect, Pearl refuses to allow her mother to enter the wild natural world of freedom and emotion. She insists that Hester surrender to the weight of the scarlet letter. One could argue that Pearl's behavior here is partly responsible for what happens in the following chapters.
 
Pearl. In this chapter, Hawthorne builds on Pearl's previously established symbolism by describing her as a "hieroglyphic" in which the secret of her father's true identity is hidden. Like real hieroglyphics, one needs only to find the key to translating its message. In this case, the key is probably the way Hester and Dimmesdale look at Pearl when they're together.
 
Themes
 
The Supernatural. There are many places in this chapter where the theme of the supernatural appears: in Pearl's strange behavior and wild nature, in Dimmesdale's request that Hester control Pearl by any means necessary (except witchcraft), and in the scarlet letter itself. When Hester puts on the scarlet letter, her passion, beauty, and warmth fade, "as if there were a withering spell" on the letter. It's painfully clear that she has internalized the shame and repression of the letter to the point of being physically altered by it.