The Little Human A Incarnate
In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, many of the characters suffer from the tolls of sin, but none as horribly as Hester’s daughter Pearl. She alone suffers from sin that is not her own, but rather that of her mother. From the day she is conceived, Pearl is portrayed as an offspring of evil. She is brought introduced to the pitiless domain of the Puritan religion from inside a jail, a place where no light can touch the depths of her mother’s sin. The austere Puritan ways punish Hester through banishment from the community and the church, simultaneously punishing Pearl in the process. This isolation leads to an unspoken detachment and hatred between her and the other Puritan children. Thus we see how Pearl is conceived through sin, and how she suffers when her mother and the community situate this deed upon her like the scarlet letter on her mother’s bosom. Pearl is thought of being an evil child with demon like qualities, yet she is spirited and very loving towards her mother.
Hester Prynn constantly questions Pearl’s existence and purpose asking God, “what is this being which I have brought into the world, evil?” or inquiring to Pearl, “Child, what art thou?” Hester sees Pearl as a reminder of her sin, especially since as an infant Pearl is acutely aware of the scarlet letter A on her mother’s chest. When still in her crib, Pearl reached up and grasped the letter, causing “Hester Prynne to clutch the fatal token so infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl’s baby-hand” (Hawthorne 66). The torture Hester felt was reflected by the significant reminder of the sin that brought Pearl into life. Hester feels guilty whenever she sees Pearl, a feeling she reflects onto her innocent child. In this manner, Hester forces the child to become detached from society. Pearl becomes no more than a manifestation based entirely upon Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s original sin. She is described as “the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!”(70). Or in other words a living child demonstrating her parents sin.
Hester’s views toward Pearl changes from merely questioning Pearl’s existence to perceiving Pearl as a demon sent to make her suffer. Hawthorne remarks that at times Hester is, “feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain”(67). Hester even tries to deny that this “imp” is her child, “Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!”(73; 67) It is small wonder that Pearl, who has been raised around sin, becomes little more than a reflection of her environment. Hester believes that Pearl is an instrument of the devil, when in reality she is merely a curious child who cherishes her free nature and wants to be loved by her mother.
Pearl is a very spirited child whose love for her mother is deep even though she does not always show it. Hester feels guilty because she truly believes in her heart that it is her sin causing Pearl to become aware of harsh realities of the world. Pearl responds to this harshness by defending her mother, sticking up for Hester against the Puritan children when they start to hurl mud at her. Pearl’s lack of friends forces her to imagine the forest as her plaything. However, she is clearly upset about her exclusion from the people of the town, whom she views as enemies. “The pine trees needed little to become Puritan elders and the ugliest of weeds their children” (65). Pearl acts to use her environment as a basis for her personality:
She never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing, broadcast the dragon’s teeth, whence sprung a harvest of armed enemies, against whom she rushed to battle. It was inexpressibly sad- then what depth of sorrow to a mother, who felt her own heart the cause! (65)
“sprung a harvest of armed enemies” is a metaphor that Hawthorne uses in a way to display Pearls imagination. Hester knows that her sin is the reason that Pearl has to imagine friends because of the isolation from the Puritan people and their children.
By the end of the story, when Hester is finally able to release her sin, Pearl is no longer a creation of a secret passion, but the daughter of a minister and a attractive young woman. She is only from that moment onward able to live her life without the weight of her mother’s sin. In fact, Hawthorne points out that she is viewed as normal because of the burden lifted from her soul: “they Pearl’s tears were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow.”
Pearl is an offspring of sin whose life revolves around the affair between her mother and Reverend Dimmesdale. Pearl stands out as a radiant child implicated in the sin between her parents. It is only once the sin is publicly revealed that she is liberated by the truth.