The Contradictions of Pearl Prynne
In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, most characters are portrayed as part of something bigger. Every character is symbolic as Hawthorne, through narrative voice, emphasizes particular parts of their personalities in order to make a statement about the Puritan community. With Pearl specifically, he seems to be noting the contrast of the free nature of Pearls actions and her passive way of forcing Hester to moderate her ways to Puritan standards. The scarlet letter is a label that the Puritans have given Hester. It is their identification of her as their sinner that binds her to conform to their societal values. Pearl is the living version of the scarlet letter that traps Hester Prynne in Puritan society, and yet is ironically one of the most free-spirited and wild creatures, and the symbol of Hesters passion in the novel.
Unlike other children in the Puritan community, Pearl is free-spirited and cannot be governed by any laws, and instead seems to follow her own rules. When describing Pearl, the narrator notes that Hester is afraid of Pearl because the child could not be made amenable to rules the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder; or with an order peculiar to themselves (80). Because Pearl is a product of the passion of the adultery that the Puritan community does not accept, she does not follow by its rules and when she is born into the Puritan community she has to make her own laws to follow. This is shown more clearly in the contrast between the solemn, grave Puritan children who reflect the stern countenance of their parents and ostracize Pearl. She is dressed in bright, festive colors that show off her beauty and fire (90) while in comparison the other Puritan children are portrayed as drab and somber (91). While the children practice the lives they will lead when they grow up, Pearl grows up as a child, playing with fantasy and imagination.
Even though Pearl is often noted to be the scarlet letter endowed with life (91), which has the purpose of punishing Hester, she contains the passion of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdales sin. When describing the reasons for Pearls wild nature, Hester recalls her impassioned state that had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life they had taken on the deep stains of the fiery luster (81). The Puritan community is devoid of the kind of passion that Hester felt in her sin, and Pearl is the result of all the emotions that Hester felt during adultery. This further serves to contrast Pearl from the laws of Puritan community, and yet Pearl is another form of the scarlet badge on Hesters bosom that serves to punish Hester. She, however, harbors all the emotions that it is trying to punish, which portrays how the Puritan law contradicts itself.
Yet this scarlet letter endowed with life also represents the mistake that Hester Prynne has committed in the eyes of the Puritan community, and will always be a reminder of Hesters betrayal to Chillingworth. Pearl both passively and actively reminds her mother of the sin that she has committed. As an infant, Pearl recognizes Hester with her scarlet marking on her chest: That first object of which Pearl seemed to become aware was the scarlet letter on Hesters bosom (85). Pearl understands that her mother is defined by the scarlet letter, and constantly reaches for the A, and never allows Hester to forget her sin. Pearls existence as well, reminds Hester of the consequences she did not foresee from her sin. While Hester watches Pearl grows up, she notes with regret that Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world she had no right among christened infants (83). This is a great reminder of the unintended negative consequences that Hester brought upon her child. By giving birth to Pearl, she brought another person into the world to share her shame and burden of the sin, which she regrets and this is one of her punishments. Pearl serves as a reminder that the label that the Puritans gave to Hester cannot be forgotten and that she must abide by their laws, while Pearl herself is not.
To Hester Prynne, Pearl is both a symbol of adultery, a sin of love and passion, as well as a symbol of betrayal, a sin of indifference and cruelty. She both loves and hates Pearl, because of all the contrasts that Pearl reflects and represents. With his portrayal of Pearl as a character that is both passionate and free, and restricting and punishing, Nathaniel Hawthorne is contradicting the irrevocability of Puritan ideals. As the scarlet letter, Pearl is meant to restrict and punish, and yet her passion, love and disregard for the laws create a paradoxical situation for Hester, who feels both ways for her daughter.