The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne Summary and Analysis Chapter 19 - The Child at the Brook-Side

Summary

Hester decides the time has come for Dimmesdale to meet Pearl. Hester and Dimmesdale are joined spiritually and genetically to this child, and "in her was visible the tie that united them." While Dimmesdale confesses that he has always been afraid someone would recognize his features in Pearl, Hester simply speaks of Pearl's beauty and sees her as a "living hieroglyphic." Dimmesdale remembers Pearl being kind to him, yet he also feels ill at ease around children and is not very confident about this meeting. Hester, however, assures him that Pearl will love him and that he should be careful not to overwhelm her with emotion.

Pearl moves very slowly toward them, trying to discern her parents' relationship. Dimmesdale senses her hesitation and puts his hand once again over his heart. Seeing the scarlet letter on the ground and her mother's hair sensuously falling about her shoulders, Pearl points her finger, stamps her foot, shrieks, and "bursts into a fit of passion."

Hester's and Dimmesdale's reactions to Pearl's behavior vary. Hester realizes that Pearl recognizes the change in her (the letter is gone from her bosom and her hair is no longer hidden under a cap), and she hurries to fasten the hated badge to her dress and to draw her cap over her hair. She excuses Pearl's actions by saying children cannot abide change easily. Dimmesdale, on the other hand, begs Hester to do whatever will stop this fit and pacify Pearl. As soon as Hester changes her appearance, Pearl willingly comes to her and mockingly kisses the scarlet letter.

Pearl desires the minister to acknowledge her in public. While Hester assures her that this admission will happen in the future, Dimmesdale kisses Pearl's forehead in an attempt to mollify her. Pearl immediately goes to the brook and washes off the kiss. There she remains apart from the adults, and the brook babbles cheerlessly on.

Analysis

Pearl is the one who moves the action in this chapter, and her response to Dimmesdale and Hester together does not foreshadow a happy ending. In fact, more than ever, Pearl is a symbol of the passionate act of her parents. She is a constant reminder of Hester's sin and, if Hester tries momentarily to forget the past, Pearl certainly disapproves. Pearl, throughout the novel, has shown herself to be unamenable to human rules and laws and seems to lack human sympathy.

Pearl, interpreted on one level, acts like a child who has suddenly realized that her world may be changing. On another level, Pearl is one with nature in the wilderness. Her image is reflected perfectly in the brook, which separates her from Hester and the minister, and as she bursts into a fit of passion at the absence of Hester's scarlet letter, ". . . it seemed as if a hidden multitude were lending her their sympathy and encouragement."

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