The Scarlet Letter By Nathaniel Hawthorne Summary and Analysis Chapter 6 - Pearl

Summary

During her first three years, Pearl, who is so named because she came "of great price," grows into a physically beautiful, vigorous, and graceful little girl. She is radiant in the rich and elaborate dresses that Hester sews for her. Inwardly, however, Pearl possesses a complex character. She shows an unusual depth of mind, coupled with a fiery passion that Hester is incapable of controlling either with kindness or threats. Pearl shows a love of mischief and a disrespect for authority, which frequently reminds Hester of her own sin of passion.

Because both Hester and Pearl are excluded from society, they are constant companions. When Pearl is on walks with her mother, she occasionally finds herself surrounded by the curious children of the village. Rather than attempt to make friends with them, she pelts them with stones and violent words.

Pearl's only companion in her playtime is her imagination. Significantly, in her games of make-believe, she never creates friends; she creates only enemies — Puritans whom she pretends to destroy. But the object that most captures her imagination is the scarlet letter A on her mother's clothing. Hester worries that Pearl is possessed by a fiend, an impression strengthened when Pearl denies having a Heavenly Father and then laughingly demands that Hester tell her where she came from.

Analysis

This chapter develops Pearl both as a character and as a symbol. Pearl is a mischievous and almost unworldly child, whose uncontrollable nature reflects the sinful passion that led to her birth. Pearl's character is closely tied to her birth, which justifies and makes the "other worldliness" about her very important. She is a product and a symbol of the act of adultery, an act of love, an act of passion, a sin, and a crime. Hawthorne, the narrator, states, "[Pearl] was worthy to have been brought forth in Eden; worthy to have been left there, to be the plaything of the angels . . ." However, she "lacked reference and adaptation to the world into which she was born."

The Puritan community believed extramarital sex to be inherently evil and influenced by the devil, and, because Pearl is a product of her mother's extramarital sex, Hawthorne raises the issue of Pearl's nature. Can something good come from something evil? Is Pearl inherently evil because she was born from what the Puritans conceived to be an immoral, sinful union? Perhaps, thinks Hester, who is fearful at least of such a predetermined outcome. Our modern sensibilities, however, shudder at the implication that an immoral act between two adults necessarily means that a child born from that sexual affair will be inherently evil.

Hawthorne's condemnation of Puritanism continues in this chapter. His strongest rebuttal of the society's self-serving, false piety occurs when he ironically contrasts the Puritan community's treatment of Hester and God's treatment of her. He notes of Hester's fellow citizens, "Man had marked this woman's sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself." Ironically juxtaposed against the Puritan's sentence that Hester wear the scarlet letter A is "God, [who] as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, . . . o be finally a blessed soul in heaven!" The comparison between the community's (Puritan's) and God's responses to Hester's extramarital affair is dramatic.

Glossary

anathemas curses things or persons greatly detested.

sprit elf-like.

gesticulation a gesture, esp. an energetic one.

Luther Martin Luther (1483-1546), the first rebel against Catholicism; leader of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

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