Scarlet letter ambiguity Essay

This essay has a total of 1767 words and 7 pages.

scarlet letter ambiguity



Ambiguity and The Scarlet Letter go better together than two people that have been
happily married for 75 years. There is no exemption in Hawthorne’s exquisite symbolism
of one of his main characters, Pearl. The Scarlet Letter A, worn by Hester Prynne, was a
punishment for the immoral sin of adultery she had committed. Following Hester's act of
adultery, she became pregnant with a baby girl whom she named Pearl. From the first
moment that we are introduced to Pearl in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet
Letter, we get the sense that there is something strange and unnatural about her. Pearl
acts very differently than the other people in Boston in that she seems to be much more
vibrant than the others. We see this displayed in various different forms like her dress, her
mood swings, her sometimes mischievous behavior, and her constant liveliness.
Throughout the novel, Pearl is used by Hawthorne to symbolize many different elements,
and the ambiguity come together for one significant meaning.
A critic of Hawthorne states, “when depth and ambiguity are much admired in
writing, Hawthorne has continued to offer enough complexity and mystery to hold a wide
variety of readers.”(Davidson, 361) Pearl was not accepted by virtually anyone; her
unavoidable seclusion was due to the sin of her mother. Pearl was always different
somehow. Throughout all of this, Pearl is labeled with many symbols that are meaningful
in understanding Hawthorne’s novel, and they will be explained in the preceding
paragraphs.
For one, Pearl is the living embodiment of the scarlet letter. She is the result from
Hester’s and Dimmesdale’s sins. Pearl plays one of the most crucial roles in The Scarlet
Letter. Hawthorne uses Pearl as a dynamic character; she is a constant reminder to Hester
of her sin. When we were first introduced to Pearl, she was immediately drawn to the
Scarlet A on Hester’s bosom. “But the first object of which Pearl seemed to become
aware was the scarlet letter on Hester’s bosom! One day, as her mother stooped over the
cradle, the infant’s eyes had been caught by the glimmering of the gold embroidery about
the letter’ and, putting up her little hand, she grasped at it, smiling not doubtfully, but with
a decided gleam.” (Hawthorne, 88). Beginning when she was conceived, Pearl served as a
reminder of the Scarlet A on her bosom. Hawthorne shows this symbolism various times.
In Chapter 7, Pearl and Hester go to the Governor’s house and Pearl’s attire “inevitably
reminded the beholder of the token which Hester Prynne was doomed to wear upon her
bosom. It was the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!”
(Hawthorne, 93). Pearl is dressed in a scarlet dress with gold fringe exactly resembling the
Scarlet A on Hester’s bosom. Pearl had a natural preference to focus on the Scarlet Letter,
which is show in Chapter 15. “…Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best as she
could, on her own bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s.
A letter, the letter A, but freshly green, instead of scarlet!” (Hawthorne, 163). In this
scene, Hester eventually has to deny its significance to Pearl after she constantly confronts
her mother of its significance. One of the most symbolic scenes in the novel occurs in the
forest as Pearl and Hester are traveling to meet Dimmesdale. Pearl remarks to Hester that
“the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of
something on your bosom.” (Hawthorne, 168). Sunshine, which can symbolize composed
happiness or the approval of God and nature, rejects Hester because of her sin and the
“thing on her bosom”. Therefore, this confirms that Pearl constantly reminds her of her sin
and her punishment. In one of the most dramatic scenes in the novel, Pearl prevents Hester
from escaping her sin and shame. Pearl “bursts into a fit of passion” and will not go to her
mother until she puts the Scarlet A back on her bosom and places her hair back
underneath her cap. In the one moment that Hester attempts to escape her sin, Pearl
refuses to acknowledge her until she returns to the shameful mother that she has always
known. Pearl is a child without guilt, with all a child’s freshness and spontaneity, however
to Hester is a persistent remembrance to the Scarlet A, which she must bare on her bosom.
Pearl really was the Scarlet Letter, because if Pearl had never been born, Hester would
have never been found guilty of adultery, and thus never would have had to wear that
burden upon her chest. As Pearl’s symbolic meaning of being the embodiment of the
scarlet letter, this is not the only symbolic meaning that she has.
Pearl is also symbolic in that she symbolized innocence. She did absolutely
nothing to be treated how she was treated, all Pearl did was be born. Pearl, in the same
idea of being the symbol of innocence, is the symbol of the treasure of youth. Her name
designates her to be a child of great value and worth. A pearl in the ocean is found and
extracted after careful labor. Pearl was brought into the world at a great cost. She was
brought into the world at the expense of her mother's public condemnation. Pearl is
innocent and is her mother's only treasure and companion. Pearl is different from ordinary
Puritan children in that she has a mind of her own. A pearl would not belong in Puritan
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