The Scarlet Letter Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

Hawthorne's narrator diverges from the narrative in order to devote this entire chapter to discussing Pearl, Hester's child, so named because she came at a "great price" and was Hester's "treasure." The girl has no physical defects, but Hester fears that there's a "dark and wild peculiarity" about her and starts to think of her not as a human child but as an "elf" (meaning a supernatural creature). Though she loves Pearl deeply, Hester has difficulty controlling and teaching this elf child and doesn't have the mettle to rebuke the child. As such, Pearl grows up a willful but enchanting child.

Quickly enough, Pearl reaches the age where it's customary for children to begin playing with other children. Pearl, however, is just as much of an outcast as her mother and is consigned to grow up in imposed loneliness. Luckily, Pearl's character makes this easier than one would expect. She doesn't seem to mind playing alone and doesn't like the other kids. In fact, she hates them and lashes out at them whenever they gather round to make fun of her.

Hester worries that her daughter isn't human because of her animosity toward the other children. At times, she looks at Pearl and thinks of her as an elvin creature rather than as her human daughter. In a particularly striking moment, Hester asks, "Child, what are thou?" when Pearl throws wildflowers at Hester's scarlet letter. Hester fears that the Devil sent Pearl to her. When she asks if the Heavenly Father sent Pearl, the girl says, "Do thou tell me!" Hester can't come to a conclusion. Pearl's origins remain a mystery.

Alliteration
 
Good examples of alliteration in this chapter are "phantasmagoric play" and "a face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice."
 
Allusions
 
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546). A German theologian whose Ninety-five Theses sparked the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther questioned the authority of the Pope and spoke out against the sale of indulgences (religious forms of forgiveness for small sins), which were used to line the Church's coffers. Hawthorne writes that, according to Luther's enemies, he was "a brat of that hellish breed" to which Pearl belonged.
 
Symbol
 
Pearl. In naming her daughter Pearl, Hester makes her a symbol of beauty, treasure, and sacrifice. Though she loves her daughter, Hester is aware that she paid a terrible price for her. This cost weighs heavy on Hester, who fears that her daughter's beauty has some supernatural element. Pearl thus serves as a reminder of Hester's shame and of the lust that caused her to invite the Devil into her life.
 
Themes
 
The Supernatural. Pearl's "elfish" nature sets her apart from the Puritan children of Boston. She's an outcast feared not just for her status as the product of a love affair but also for her mysterious, potentially supernatural origins. There's something inhuman about Pearl that worries Hester. Pearl's disinterest in other kids her age, her sudden rages, and her spritely communion with nature suggest that she's not entirely of this world.