“In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder, or with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered” (Hawthorne, Chapter 6 p. 98).
The quote above generalizes Pearl’s character. She was the daughter of Hester Prynne, a woman living in the standards of the Puritan society condemned by the people as ‘brazen hussy’ who bears the scarlet letter ‘A’ fantastically embroidered upon her bosom (Hawthorne, Chapter 2 p. 57). Unbeknownst to the majority, Hester’s secret husband was the scholar Roger Chillingworth. However, she also had a scandalous affair with the Puritan minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. Pearl was the bastard child of Dimmesdale as a result of his affair with Hester. She is the bond that connects their passions as Sandeen suggests, “Pearl is a child who "had sprung . . . a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion" (430). The purpose of this paper is to analyze Pearl’s character not only as the ‘embodiment of the evil’ but also to understand the Puritan hypocrisy in Colonial America during the 17th century. In this paper I would like to argue that Pearl’s brazen and ill-tempered attitude was caused by the society and the family she was born to. Despite Pearl’s roguish, capricious and untamed nature (Garlitz, 695); she is a beautiful child possessing an astute observation and intelligent mind. Despite her innate loveliness, Puritan society ostracized her mother and ignored Pearl’s existence because she is the result of the sin committed by her mother and unknown father. Hawthorne declared that Pearl was a born outcast; an imp of evil and a product of wickedness which are reason enough to deprive her rights to mingle amongst Christened children (Hawthorne, Chapter 6 p. 101). Garlitz suggests that Pearl is one of the most enigmatic children ever written in the English literature and her existence in the novel has sparked divided arguments about the true nature of her character (689). Based from her physical appearance, she is a lovely sight to behold; however, under the Freudian analysis she is a neurotic child who pays back upon her mother the torments which social ostracism put upon her (Garlitz, 690). As the daughter of a scandalous woman, the strict Puritan society humiliated them because they are the very good example of wickedness. In this case, Pearl began to develop a troublesome attitude, probably as a result of social isolation (Garlitz, 689). Hawthorne did Pearl’s character with a purpose. Pearl is the symbol of the sin committed by her mother, but endowed with life. Her mere presence and attitude continues to torment Hester. “God gave me the child She is my happiness and torture none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter capable of being loved” (Hawthorne, Chapter 7 p. 122). Throughout the years, scholars of Hawthorne’s works debated against each other about her ulterior motives; whether Pearl was an innocent child or not. Leland Schubert catalogued Pearl as a ‘witch-baby’ (Garlitz, 691). To support this argument, in the Chapter 19 of the book, Pearl saw her mother and the minister sitting together on the other side of the brook. She [Pearl] just looks at them from other side, without uttering any response to Hester’s sweet encouragement to meet the minister who was actually her estranged father. Instead, Pearl transfixed her wild eyes on both her mother and the minister, whilst stretching out her hand and little forefinger extended, pointing towards the location of the scarlet letter emblazoned on Hester’s chest. In this scene, Hawthorne depicts Pearl with an unconscious aura of witch-like power capable of penetrating people’s thoughts and revealing the humbug beneath them. It is as if Pearl had directly known that Dimmesdale was the cause of her mother’s sufferings from the society created by the scarlet letter. Pearl unconsciously reminds Hester and Arthur of their sin of the flesh. “For some unaccountable reason, as Arthur Dimmesdale felt the child’s eyes upon himself, his hand with that gesture so habitual as to have become involuntary stole over his heart” (Hawthorne, Chapter 19 p. 233). To further add an insult to injury, Hester asked her daughter who is her mother and in return, Pearl had answered with such clarity that she [Hester] was indeed her mother and hugged her, but Hester was dumbfounded when her daughter bent over and kissed the despised mark on her bosom, the mark of sin and adultery which is the prime reason of her birth in the world. Hester reprimanded her for being loving and yet mocking at the same time, a scene so wickedly devised by Hawthorne to show that women like Hester needed forgiveness and mercy but they should be aware of the sins they had committed. Perhaps, Hawthorne created this scene to point out Hester’s hidden identity as a fille de joie despite the strict rules governing the Puritan New England, and her daughter’s kiss on the mark is Hawthorne’s discreet reminder of her sin as a married woman. Moreover, Pearl is a child of bad temper and Hester notices it especially when she notices the child’s eerie behavior towards the Puritan children. According to the book, Pearl refused to talk to Christianized children, and when they approach her, Pearl would grow wrathful that leads to her snatching up stones to fling at them (Hawthorne, 102). The nineteenth century character analysis of Pearl made her appear to look more innocent compared to the twentieth century studies. Scholar Darrel Abel compared her character to William Wordsworth’s Lucy children because of her wild and untainted innocence; Regarding Pearl’s character, Hawthorne also admitted that her [Pearl] existence is worthy to have been brought forth in Eden (Garlitz, 691). For a child, she is very intelligent and perceptive of everything around her. Pearl reminds her mother of her grave sin, which is why she always touches the scarlet letter embroidered upon her mother’s dress, a silent reminder that Hester cannot escape her passionate nature. She is very perceptive of her surroundings, especially of her mother and other people. Pearl’s innate curiosity and highly perceptive nature can be explained using the Social Learning Theory. Albert Bandura, a world renowned psychologist who developed the Bobo doll experiment once stated that children learn many things from observation (Bandura 1). Bandura’s Social Learning Theory explains that children rely on heavy observation either on their parents, relatives and even friends and this is called ‘observational learning’. Additionally, Bandura’s social learning theory summarizes the children’s ability to adapt in their environment. Their attitude is the product of their environment, as Bandura proposed, if a child grew up in a caring and loving family, kind to animals and caring to the environment, chances are that they will reflect the same attitude. However, the child who has seen problems being faced with violence, arguments occurring, wrongdoing being punished by hitting, will tend to grow up to be more aggressive (Bandura, 1). Hence, Pearl’s aloof and ill-tempered attitude was not caused by any devil or whatsoever. It is the result of the hypocrisy prevalent to a society plagued with an obsession of religion, despite the fact that they are also sinners themselves. I want to point out that Pearl’s brazen attitude was just a form of self-defense against the violence against them. Even more so, she has never known kindness even amongst the children with the same age as hers. Bandura’s evidence of aggressive behavior displayed by children was clearly identified in a passage from the book. Hawthorne notes that: “Pearl, who was a dauntless child, after frowning, stamping her foot, and shaking her little hand with a variety of threatening gestures, suddenly made a rush at the knot of her enemies, and put them all to flight. She resembled, in fierce pursuit of them, an infant with a scarlet fever or an angel of judgment determined to punish the sins of the new generation” (Hawthorne, Chapter 7 p. 111). According to Dr. Somashekar, naturally gifted children are very keen in discovering new things and highly observant of their surroundings. Pearl’s natural curiosity on things beyond her knowledge is her way of coping and learning the natural processes of the world. Somashekar wrote that one example of a positive trait in mentally gifted children is their ability to show much curiosity in questioning and they are alert, keen and observant which allows them to react quickly (Somashekar, n.p.). On the other hand, she also enumerates one disadvantage of which includes being restless and inattentive, indifferent and critically outspoken. Based from these empirical facts, I want to point that Pearl is a mentally gifted child and her behavior towards others is merely the results of what she sees in her environment. She is alert, keen and observant because she notices the habitual mannerism of her estranged father; her restlessness and inattentiveness in Chapter 22 was a result of her critical thinking, an astute trait of a child capable of deducing that the minister that she saw in the procession was the same minister who kissed her in the brook. She is critically outspoken when she told her mother in Chapter 16 that the sun was afraid to show itself to her [Hester] because of the letter embroidered on her bosom, and it seems that this is Pearl’s simple but direct emotional torture over her mother. Sun is the allegory of the new beginning, and for women like Hester, it seems that she is not entitled to that new beginning mainly because she committed a grave sin. Even Hester is utterly confused of her own child’s behavior; when she suddenly cried passionately, Pearl’s countenance held a dark frown whilst clenching her smaller hands into tight fists. Her once lovely, elfin-like face was distorted by a stern, un-sympathizing look of discomfort (Hawthorne, 100). In addition, she is quite an impulsive young girl who sometimes convulses with grief and loneliness, she went to Hester whilst sobbing and declared her love for her in incoherent words. Another evidence of her astute perception is when she was caught by her mother looking at herself in front of a mirror. Hester asked herself if she is still her own daughter, Pearl. For a brief moment, Hester saw a smile playing on her lips tainted with malicious thoughts and because of this, Hester was not unsure for a while if she was still the old Pearl she had known. Upon meeting the magistrate at the governor’s hall, the minister Arthur Dimmesdale placed his hand on her head whilst kissing her delicate brows. The comforting gesture made Pearl to become calm, clearly the minister’s touch eliminated Pearl’s unwanted mood of establishment and she laughed outland, thus receiving a remark from Mr. Wilson that she is indeed the daughter of the devil (Hawthorne, 126). Another striking evidence of her observant nature was written in Chapter 15 of the novel. Hester and Pearl was having a conversation about the scarlet letter branded onto Hester’s bosom. Pearl’s innate curiosity about things prompted her to ask her mother about the origin of the label and the Minister Dimmesdale’s unusual habit of placing his hand over his heart. Hawthorne noted that Hester was quite scandalized and astonished of Pearl’s questions for a brief passage from the chapter revealed that she [Hester] amused at the absurd incongruity of the child’s observation, but on second though turning pale (Hawthorne, 198). On the other hand, Nina Baym also wrote that Pearl’s character was not entirely created for allegorical purposes. According to one of his old journals retrieved after his death, Hawthorne modeled Pearl to be the exact likeness of his first child, Una (Baym, 3). Pearl functions as a link connecting the three premises of corruption because she was born as a result of a sexual liaison of a married woman and a minister; an adultery nonetheless. She represents innocence because she is an intelligent observant and curious about the things around her which is a part of a child’s growing process and lastly, Pearl is the human form of Hester’s conscience which continues to torment her, as a result of her desire to achieve the pleasures of the flesh. The phrase blood is thicker than water aptly summarizes Pearl’s relationship with the minister. Despite her lack of knowledge about her true identity, Pearl instantly remarked him as her close kin. She responded with so much ardor and familiarity towards Mr. Dimmesdale’s touch, as if they had known each other for a long time, the evidence of this is found on the Chapter 12 of the book, wherein a scene of familiar domesticity was created. Pearl’s hand was held by Minister Dimmesdale whilst she continued to ask him if he would accompany them at noontide. In a short passage, the minister also felt the bond between a father and his daughter for he felt a new rush of life surging through his own hand and creating a torrent into his heart as if they [Hester and Pearl] were both communicating to him (Hawthorne, 169). Nevertheless, Dimmesdale’s cowardliness to face the truth represented by Pearl made him reject her request of visiting them in the afternoon; so to speak, to avoid the further scandal which might lead to disastrous consequences. Hawthorne tells the reader about Pearl’s silent understanding of the minister’s true identity and his role in their lives. For her father, perhaps Pearl’s existence is the reason of his suffering mostly from the guilt of hypocrisy which was the basis of the Puritan society. The seven years of guilt made his health frail and as noted by Pearl on various circumstances, the reason that he always places his hand on his chest is because of the guilt that eats him inside as a result of his cowardice to face the possible of effect of his adultery and for his failure to give Pearl the assurance of a family. The sins of adultery was regarded as a wicked vice in the Puritan society, hence, Hester and Pearl received too much hostility and judgment from the society despite her efforts to help them. Even the Christianized children despised their existence in the society and just like their Puritan compatriots and families; their mind is polluted with violence, with the purpose of inflicting pain and torture to the two people punished by Puritan laws. “Behold, verily, there is the woman of the scarlet letter; and of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side! Come, therefore, and let us fling mud at them” (Hawthorne, Chapter 7 p. 111). As a child, Pearl’s attitude became wrathful to inflict punishment as well to the children who mocked them. She scared off her enemies by shouting and screaming with terrifying volume “which caused the hearts of the fugitives to quake” (Hawthorne, Chapter 7 p. 111); another evidence of her extremely aggressive behavior. Hawthorne wrote Pearl’s character complex enough to capture the interests of his readers. Many literary scholars have argued that the existence of Pearl in the novel she represents the unmorality of a child (Garlitz, 690) for she represents the wickedness from a forbidden relationship. Garlitz suggested that Pearl’s character was modeled from a Faustian prototype; stating that she was indeed a cursed demon-child who must be freed from the wickedness by Dimmesdale’s confession (691). As a conclusion, the hypocritical society of the Puritans is the main cause of Pearl’s bad behavior. The strict rules of the Puritan Law ruined a somewhat, happy family and eventually, ruined Pearl’s identity as an ordinary child. Pearl’s character represents the vileness of the society, moral corruption, innocence and conscience. Hawthorne champions in creating Pearl’s character remarkable enough to capture the reader’s attention in exposing the moral rigidity of the 17th century Puritan New England.
Bandura, Albert. “Social Learning Theory.” 2009. PDF File
Baym, Nina. “The Character of Pearl.” 1986. PDF File
Garlitz, Barbara. "Pearl: 1850-1955." Modern Language Association 72.4 (1957): 689-699. JStor. Web. 13 Dec. 2014. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/460178 >
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Collins Classics: The Scarlet Letter. London: Harper Press, 2010. Print.
Sandeen, Ernest. "The Scarlet Letter as a Love Story." Modern Language Association 77.4 (1962): 425-435. JStor. Web. 13 Dec. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/460567>
Somashekar, T.V. Educational Psychology and Evaluation. Bangalore: Sapna Book House, 2012. PDF File.