Scarlet Letter- Unpressed Affection - English - Essay

1066 words - 5 pages

Adira Barber
Pearl and Hester: Mirror Characters
The Scarlet Letter, ​a historical fiction novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, tells the story of a
young woman, Hester Prynne, who committed adulterous acts with the minister and had a baby.
She lives in a Puritan society, a religion in which they believe in strict laws and harsh
punishments of sinners. Hester’s punishment is that she must wear a scarlet letter A on all of her
clothes, which is a sign of adultery but it is also a constant reminder to Hester of her passion. Her
daughter Pearl, who was conceived out of this sin, serves as a mirror character to her mother, and
subsequently to the scarlet letter.
Pearl, in her wild, unrepressed affection, mirrors the adulterous passion of her mother, as
does the scarlet letter. In her society, she is completely out of place, a child born out of immense
craving, and she, like the scarlet letter, is a reminder of that same passion in which she was
created. The first time that Pearl is introduced she symbolizes adultery, which is the sin that her
mother committed. As it says, “But she named the infant ‘Pearl’ as being of great
price,--purchased with all she had,--her mother’s only treasure!” (Hawthorne 133). According to
Puritans, sins were not only against oneself and God, but against the entire community. Hester
was an outcast in her church and in her community, and wearing the scarlet letter and raising
Pearl made it more obvious. Hester had Pearl out of a crime, and the name Pearl is from Hester
as a reminder of her sin. Pearls are white, and they represent innocence, which is contradictory to
how Hester is viewed by her community. Pearl is raised to believe that she was born out of sin,
and Hester tells her that God is not there for her, “‘Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!’ answered
Hester Prynne. But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the acuteness of the
child…..‘He did not send me!’ cried she, positively. ‘I have no Heavenly Father!’” (Hawthorne
147). Pearl was raised with the knowledge that God was not there for her, and it shows that
Hester has lost faith in the church. It also shows that Pearl was raised with the awareness that she
was born out of adultery, and because of this she is raised with the belief that there is no
heavenly father watching over her. She has been educated that she is a product of sin and
immorality. In this way she is a mirror character to her mother, because Hester has lived in this
community since her sin with her sins hanging over her head. Hester’s hesitation to tell her
daughter where she came from portrays Hester’s growth in realizing that her sin was not as great
as her religion has made it out to be.
The most considerable way that Pearl mirrors her mother is by being a living
embodiment of her sin. She is a child of wild, unfettered passion, and she becomes mesmerized
by the scarlet letter that Hester wears, even before she could talk. Hawthorne writes, “Whether
moved only by her ordinary freakishness, or because an evil spirit prompted her, she put up her
small forefinger, and touched the scarlet letter.”(Hawthorne 147) As a young child, Pearl grasps
for the scarlet letter, as if she knows that this is the reason for her birth. Pearl is also, by nature,
an unmanageable child. Hester does not have the ability to tame her daughter; she simply gives
in to the child's inner nature. Hester was “ultimately compelled to stand aside and permit the
child to be swayed by her own impulses.” (Hawthorne 137) This suggests that as long as Hester
herself remains unsure about the moral consequences of her adulterous sin, and so long as she
lives in limbo between passion and duty she may never be able to control Pearl. But once she
makes peace with her sin, Pearl can truly become her child, and in this way Pearl mirrors her
mother’s emotions and inner dilemmas.
Hester’s emotions towards the scarlet letter are also portrayed through her feelings
towards Pearl. The Puritan’s response towards Hester’s sin conveys how there was no room for
passion in a Puritan society. Even though Hester gains a little respect from the community for
her charitable work towards the poor, the scarlet letter causes her to have a colder attitude than
before. Hawthorne writes “All the light and graceful foliage of her character had been withered
up by this red​-hot brand…”(Hawthorne 245). Hester could no longer give the same passion she
once had towards her daughter, because the scarlet letter took that intensity away from her. After
the years of punishment and hatred that she got from her community Hester could no longer give
affection towards Pearl like she used to. Her punishment begins to take a toll on her and she
starts to believe that her life as an oppressed woman is not worth living, and wonders “whether it
were not better to send Pearl at once to heaven, and go herself to such futurity as Eternal Justice
should provide” (Hawthorne 249). The scarlet letter seemingly causes Hester to accept Puritan
values on the outside, but the disdain and ridicule she receives from the society around her
makes her inwardly reject these values even more. She considers killing Pearl, the one thing in
her world that she cares the most about, because the Puritan world is hostile to her and sees her
as impure. Her feelings towards the scarlet letter are similar to her feelings on Pearl, and Pearl is
therefore able to understand what her mother did, and the reasons why the townspeople treat
them so harshly.
In her society, Pearl is completely out of place, because she is a child born out of
adulterous acts, and she mirrors her mother’s adulterous passion in her own unrestrained
affection. She, like the scarlet letter, is a reminder of that same passion in which she was created.
She is a living embodiment of her mother’s sin, and she becomes obsessed with the scarlet letter.
The feelings that Hester shows towards the scarlet letter, and towards the Puritan society mirrors
the way she feels and acts towards her daughter Pearl. Pearl serves as a mirror character to her
mother Hester, and subsequently towards the scarlet letter.

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