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Pearl's evolving relationship with Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter


Pearl's relationship with Dimmesdale evolves from curiosity to a deeper, more personal connection. Initially, Pearl is intrigued by Dimmesdale, sensing his connection to her mother, Hester. As the story progresses, Dimmesdale acknowledges his paternity, leading to a more intimate bond. This evolution culminates in Dimmesdale's public confession, which profoundly impacts Pearl, transforming her from a symbol of sin to a person capable of love and empathy.

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In The Scarlet Letter, what is Pearl’s effect on Dimmesdale?

Pearl's effect on Dimmesdale is associated with Dimmesdale's perception of his sin. As an unconfessed adulterer, Dimmesdale loathes himself and tries to punish himself by all night prayer vigils and self-mutilation. When he sees Pearl, he is reminded of his sin. Thus, he seems to have very little contact with his daughter. In fact, during the forest scene, it is Hester who says she wants Dimmesdale to "know Pearl." But Pearl is so overwhelmed at seeing her mother without the scarlet letter, that she has a temper tantrum. When Dimmesdale tries to kiss her, she washes off his kiss. Dimmesdale instructs Hester to put the scarlet letter back and let Pearl be. However, earlier in the novel, Pearl seems to sense a connection with Dimmesdale and asks him if he will stand on the scaffold with her and her mother in the daytime. Dimmesdale's response is that he will gladly stand with her "on judgement day"--or at the end of time. Thus, it seems that no matter how much he would like to know his daughter, the effects of sin and hiding that sin are more important to him.

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What effect does Pearl have on Arthur Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter?

Pearl effects the Reverend in many ways.  She is his child, so he feels affection toward her, but she acts so strangely that he is alienated from him.  She is suspicious of him and notices things that a child normally would not.  She asks him why he holds his heart in the the same way her mother touchs her scarlet letter.  She asks him to stand on the scaffold in the daylight when everyone can see the three of them there instead of in the dead of night when only the three of them (and Roger Chillingworth) know they're there.  She refuses to come near them in the woods when her mother's hair is down and the letter is not on her breast.  It is almost as if the child is forcing them both to face the grief and guilt they have brought on themselves by committing adultery.  She is the mixed blessing...she can be a sweet child, but more often she is like the child of the earth.  Grounded in her sinful conception and birth and determined to be the constant reminder of the sin her parents committed.

Arthur is never truly comfortable around Pearl because she seems so much older and wiser than her years.  She seems to have knowledge beyond what she should have, and Arthur feels that each time they meet, he is being judged.  His guilt gets the best of him aside from the poison that Roger Chillingworth is giving him.

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Why do Pearl's actions towards Dimmesdale change in The Scarlet Letter?

It is essential to recognize Hawthorne's depiction of Pearl as symbol; for, she is "the scarlet letter endowed with life," the incarnation of the sin of Hester Prynne and the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.  As such, she seems other-worldly--an "elf," an "imp," a "sprite-like creature." 

Because Pearl is a perplexing mixture of strong moods, laughing uncontrollably at times, sullenly silent at others, some of the Puritans think she is a "demon offspring."  However, such is not true. As the symbol of Hester's and Dimmesdale's adultery, Pearl, at times, simply feels the effects of this illicit affair.  For instance, in Chapter IV, the infant Pearl "writhed in convulsions of pain and was a forcible type in its frame" because Hester has experienced much agony throughout the exchange with her husband, Roger Chillingworth.  In Chapter VIII, Pearl is described a combination of "unhallowed lust" and "holy love" by Dimmesdale,

"retribution...a torture to be felt at many an unthought-of-moment; a pang, a sting, an ever recurring agony, in the midst of a troubled joy!"  

So, as a reminder of his sin with Hester, Dimmesdale fears her and does not recognize her in public.  The perspicacious Pearl who is the incarnation of these conflicting emotions, perceives this rejection and asks her mother in Chapter XIX, "Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together into the town?" When it becomes evident that he willl not, Pearl washes off Dimmesdale's kiss and stays apart from her parents.

In Chapter XXI, Pearl again asks her mother if Dimmesdale will recognize her as they prepare for the New England Holiday,

"And will he hold out both his hands to me, as when thou ledst me to him from the brook-side?"

On the holiday, after the procession of dignitaries has passed, little Pearl, who has been unable to detect Dimmesdale in the group, tells her mother that she would "have run to him, and bid him kiss me now, before all the people....," wondering if, seeing her, the minister would then have placed his hand over his heart and frowned at her, dimissing her. Ironically, Pearl touches upon the one authentic act that Dimmesdale must perform if he would be forgiven his secret sin.  Finally, as the minister confesses on the scaffold, Pearl kisses him and "A spell was broken." It is at this point that Pearl becomes human--for to sin is human--as Dimmesdale finally acknowledges his sin publicly. Pearl changes because her "errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled." Indeed, just as Pearl is the living symbol of Hester's sin, now she is also acknowledged by the minister as the living symbol of Dimmesdale's secret sin.  This is why her behavior changes towards the minister; "a troubled joy," she has for long desired this recognition.

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Why do Pearl's actions towards Dimmesdale change in The Scarlet Letter?

Pearl seems to represent an all-knowing evil at times. She is directly called an imp, an elf, and a demon-child. She is called a witch. In a moment during chapter 8, Pearl has a moment of affection for Dimmesdale:

Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf, stole softly towards him, and, taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was looking on, asked herself,— “Is that my Pearl?”

This moment may be revealing to the audience that Pearl almost knows her father is Dimmesdale, or she appreciates how he stood up for Hester to be able to take care of her. 

By the 15th chapter, Dimmesdale notes that she has up to this point been affectionate to him twice only. Hester asks her to be affectionate again, but Pearl refuses:

Pearl would show no favor to the clergyman.

She even washes off a kiss that Dimmesdale places on her forehead. 

There may be a few reasons why Pearl's actions change in respect to Dimmesdale throughout the novel. First, she is intuitive. She notices that there is a relationship between he and Hester. But it is not a relationship that can be acted on. This is strange to her:

But here in the sunny day, and among all the people, he knows us not; nor must we know him! A strange, sad man is he, with his hand always over his heart! (Chap 21)

Another reason she changes is because she doesn't understand this. For a time, she didn't really want to obey him or relate to him, but as she sees opportunity to want to be with him in public, she cannot. The hiding of the sin makes no sense to her because she does not know of the sin. 

Pearl changes and grows in her understanding over time. At sometimes it seems as if a demonic presence does indeed compliment her ability to percieve. Other times, she is dependent on her human nature and it is astute. She acts as any other child who would percieve her father and want to know him but doesn't understand WHY she can't really be with him.

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In The Scarlet Letter, how does Pearl behave towards Dimmesdale?

Pearl seems to have some intuitive belief that Dimmesdale is her father. Because of that, she assumes that he should publicly acknowledge her. When he refuses, she is not kind to him. For example, in the second scaffold scene which occurs in the middle of the night, Pearl asks Dimmesdale is he will stand on the same scaffold in the middle of the day with her and her mother. What she is asking is for Dimmesdale to publicly acknowledge she is his daughter. Dimmesdale's response is that he will not stand on the scaffold in the middle of the day with her but will eventually acknowledge her "on judgement day", at the end of the world. That's a long time to wait for a little girl. When Hester and Dimmesdale meet in the forest, Pearl keeps asking why the minister keeps holding his hand over his heart. Then, after Pearl plays in the brook, Hester and Dimmesdale return from the forest. Dimmesdale tries to kiss Pearl and she washes his kiss off in the brook. The only time she seems to treat Dimmesdale with respect is when he is dying on the scaffold after finally admitting her is father. That action seems to quiet the longing she has for acknowledgment and the rest of her life seems rather happy.

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Why does Pearl pull away from Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter?

In Chapter XIX of The Scarlet Letter Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale stand on the other side of the brook as Hester calls to her daughter Pearl, who adorns herself with flowers in a "kindred wildness" with the "mother-forest."  When Pearl sees the minister, however, she slows down.  Despite her being the tie that unites the minister and Hester, Pearl perceives the minister as having entered the circle of herself with her mother.  Even her mother feels the Peal has

...strayed out of the sphere in which she and her mother dwelt together, and was not vainly seeking to return to it.

The "sensitive minister" also feels that the brook is a boundary between two worlds.  As Hester encourages Pearl to cross, the child fixes her gaze upon them both; Dimmesdale places his hand upon his chest for some "unaccountable reason."  Then, Pearl points to the scarlet letter floating in the brook, bursting into "a fit of passion" until Hester reaches down and replaces the letter upon her bosom.  Reminiscent of actions in Chapter II is this action of Pearl.  For when Hester is tempted there to cover up her letter with Pearl, she realizes the "one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another."  Now, in this scene of Chapter XIX "the other token of shame" is the Reverend Dimmesdale.  After Hester replaces her letter, Pearl crosses the brook.  But, with Dimmesdale's having covered his secret letter of sin, Pearl asks her mother if the minister, whom Hester says waits to welcome her, will go back hand in hand with them to town or cover his heart with his hand.  To these questions, Hester does not reply.  So, when the minister bends and kisses the child on the forehead, Pearl pulls away, rushes to the brook, and washes off the kiss.  Nor does she walk with them; instead, "she remained apart, silently watching Hester and the clergyman. For, Pearl, the symbol of Hester's sin, recognizes  in her mother's lack of response to her questions that Dimmesdale will not be like her mother; he will not, as Hawthorne urges in the final chapter and as Hester is, "be true" and acknowledge Hester and their child in public.

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