The Scarlet Letter |
Hester Prynne once asked, Wilt thou let me be at peace, if I once tell thee? (Hawthorne). In Nathaniel Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter, life was centered on a strict Puritan society in which one cannot indulge in their deepest desires and wishes. The Puritan life style was based purely on sin. They also believed that all people were sinners who were despised and hated by God. Sinners were subject to the worst kind of punishment, suffering, and worst torment. The Puritan society did not accept the fact that Hester had committed adultery, one of the sins of Ten Contentments. Hester and Arthur Dimmesdale bore the punishment of their adultery, which affected their daughter, Pearl. While Dimmesdale plagues himself with guilt and Hester lived with the scarlet letter A across her chest it was Pearl who received the worst penalty of all. She had to suffer for sins which she did not commit. The village where they resided associated her with the circumstances of her birth. They branded Pearl with the same reputation as her mother. Although many in Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter endured the results of sin, none had a punishment as severe as the one that Pearl suffered.
From the very moment that Pearl was born, she was placed under scrutiny. Pearl was created through an act of love shared between two people. During that time society considered this to be a sin because there was no social contract (marriage) between Hester and Dimmesdale that would have permitted them to have a baby. The townspeople see Pearl as a visible reminder of the sin committed and thought of her as evil. It was not long before her own mother began to search for evil within her as well. Pearl was described as the scarlet letter in another form: the scarlet letter endowed with life. (Hawthorne 103). With her fascination with the scarlet letter from an early age, Hester believes that Pearls very reason for existence is to torment her. Hester fails to realize that the letter is just something bright and significant to which Pearl reacts. Instead Pearl sees every glance, every word aimed at the letter, every touch of Pearls tiny fingers to her bosom as an added torture resulting from her adultery.
Hesters, consideration of Pearls very existence, goes back to a question she asked her, Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine! (Hawthorne 99) she told Pearl in a joking manner. In her own way, Hester wonders whether Pearl was sent to her by God or by a demon wishing to cause her pain. She was not alone in that speculation; many of the townspeople believed there was something devilish about Pearl. In fact, Pearl did not show any examples of how to behave properly because Hester was unsure about imposing any sort of discipline. Day after day Hester looked fearfully at Pearl, dreading to find some dark and wild mark of the Devil. This mark would correspond with the guilt that Hester owned. (Hawthorne 92). In associating her own guilt with her daughter, Hester cannot find the strength to be assertive. Hester was ultimately compelled to stand aside, and perm it the child to be swayed by her own impulses (Hawthorne 94). It was not surprising that Pearls actions were mischievous even though she was being watched for signs of the Devil. Pearl was an impulsive little girl, who was free to act in a way which made her seem to be a devilish child. Her behavior was some what odd and unpredictable however she found many ways to keep herself entertained.
Pearls behavior could also be defined by her lack of the contact with other peers. Alienated by her mothers shame, Pearl had nobody her own age to interact with. The Puritan society viewed her very harshly. A symbol of evil, emblem, and a creation of sin, Pearl had no right being among the christened infants and children. Nothing was more remarkable than the natural instinct, as it seemed, with which the child comprehended Pearls loneliness. So when young Puritans came in contact with Pearl, they experience her fury. She would be found snatching up stones to fling at them, with thrill, incoherent exclamations that made Pearls mother tremble because they had so much that sounded as a witchs anathemas in an unknown tongue (Hawthorne 95). Once again due to Hester questioning her daughters essence as good misses the fact that Pearl is simply reacting to the situation at hand.
Pearl was isolated because of her mothers infidelity. Pearl lived a very lonely and empty childhood. She lacked the companionship of others and was forced to create her own companions while entertaining herself. In her loneliness, Pearl creates manifestations of herself, as being unhappy, and showing her frustration with being segregated. Part of this was how Pearl viewed the world around her.
The pine-trees, aged, black, and solemn, and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted, most unmercifully. It was wonderful, the vast variety of forms into which she threw her intellect, with no continuity, indeed, but darting up and dancing, always in a state of preternatural activity,--soon sinking down, as if exhausted by so rapid and feverish a tide of life,--and succeeded by other shapes of a similar wild energy. It was like nothing so much as the phantasmagoric play of the northern lights. In the mere exercise of the fancy, however, and the sportiveness of a growing mind, there might be little more than was observable in other children of bright faculties; except as Pearl, in the dearth of human playmates, was thrown more upon the visionary throng which she created. The singularity lay in the hostile feelings with which the child regarded all these offsprings of her own heart and mind. 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. (Hawthorne 97).
Despite her misbehaved manner, Pearl loved her mother deeply. She was always defensive, without the surety of her mothers love and she was misunderstood sometimes. Pearls life was very bleak compared to that of other characters. But to see Hester being harassed bothered Pearl very much. When the local children would harass Hester while on their journey into town, Pearl would stand up for her mother. The so-called virtuous children of the Puritan community would announce 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 her side. Come, therefore, and let us throw mud at them! (Hawthorne 103). This would then taunt Pearl into responding in a violent manner. Although Pearl was really innocent of the sin, she was included in her mothers shame. She was forced to learn the harsh realities of life earlier than most children would have too.
Unlike Pearl, the other characters of The Scarlet Letter have a way of escaping their own burdens. Dimmesdale is free to confess his sin, although it would cost him dearly. As for Hester, she could leave the town and try to seek a new life somewhere else. However, Pearl was bound to her mother and does not know any other way of life. The kindest thing that could happen to Pearl was to leave from the Puritan society and find freedom elsewhere. This way she was able to escape the suspicion and the infamous sin of her mother. Until her escape, Pearl suffered the most painful punishments, without fully comprehending her situation. Alone in a childhood of hostility, the blameless girl was in the worst situation of all. She paid a toll of sins without ever going down the road of evil. Caught up in events which were out of her control, her existence was altered by her surrounding environment of animosity. Pearls penalty was much harsher than others because she was truly an innocent victim.
Works Consulted and Cited
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Penguin, Riverside edition. - Print