In the Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Pearl serves as the ‘apple of Eden’;. She is plucked from the hands of God in heaven and sent to the mortal world as a baby ‘to make out its the scarlet letter’s hidden import’; (155), causing Prynne and Dimmesdale to face their consequences. Pearl functions in the story on three levels: as a real child, as a continuing symbol of Prynne and Dimmesdale’s adultery, and as an allegorical figure sent to torment the sinners and direct their actions. Only Dimmesdale can ‘ripen’; her into the woman she needs to become. Otherwise she will continually serve as a representation of their mistake.
Pearl is the rose bush that is located outside of the prison door. Although, she brings happiness to Prynne, Pearl is covered with ‘thorns’;. When Mr. Wilson asks Pearl the question of who made her, Pearl responds ‘that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses, that grew by the prison-door’; (95). She is a good child, an ‘infant;#8230;worthy to have been brought forth in Eden; worthy to have been left there, to be the plaything of the angels’; (75), but she is a ‘born outcast of the infantile world;#8230;an imp of evil, emblem and product of sin’; (79). Her physical features did not show she is different: she has perfect arms and legs and has a native grace with innocent beauty. She is magnificent when she is displayed in her exquisite robes as her natural beauty shown through such that there was a circle of radiance around her. However, emotionally something is wrong with Pearl. If other children gather around her, she would feel the dislike from the other children, and would snatch up stones to throw at them, while screaming. In the ‘garden’; of the Puritan society, Pearl is the rose bush, while ‘the ugliest weeds of the garden were their Puritans’ children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted, most unmercifully’; (80). Prynne, the adulterous mother, feels the guilt of bringing Pearl into the world and is reluctant to discipline the child, because Pearl is Prynne’s ‘sole treasure, whom she had bought so dear, and who was all her world’; (78).
Pearl also represents the living embodiment of the scarlet letter embroidered on Prynne’s clothing. She ‘was the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!’; (86). ‘All this enmity and passion had Pearl inherited, by inalienable right, out of Prynne’s heart’; (80). Prynne transmitted the rays of life through her impassioned state to Pearl, ‘and, however white and clear originally, they rays of life had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the untempered light’; (77). She is beautiful, just as the embroidered letter is, yet she brings her mother much pain. Prynne is the ‘woman of the scarlet letter’; and Pearl is the ‘likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side’; (87) and within Pearl’s personality are the mixed emotions that are contained within the letter;#8212;defiance, gloom, shame, and anger. She is as uncontrollable as the situation that the letter represents.
Pearl serves as a constant reminder of the adultery Prynne has committed. Even in her crib Pearl seemed fascinated with the scarlet letter. She is intrigued by the letter as ‘she grasped at it, smiling, not doubtfully, but with a decided gleam that gave her face the look of a much older child’; (81). Weeks would sometimes elapse in which Pearl would not look at the scarlet letter, but then ‘it Pearl’s gaze would come at unawares, like the stroke of sudden death, and always with that peculiar smile, and odd expression of the eyes’; (82). One afternoon she even hits the spot with wildflowers while Prynne endures the emotional pain. And when Prynne throws the scarlet letter away temporarily and then asks Pearl to bring it back to her, Pearl responds, ‘Come thou and take it up!’; (185). After Prynne picks it up, Pearl spontaneously kisses her mother, then the scarlet letter herself, and act which pains Prynne greatly. Since she is the symbolic embodiment of the scarlet letter, neither she nor it can be tossed away. On the allegorical level, Pearl functions here as an agent of the divine, preventing Prynne from avoiding the consequences of her actions.
Even when playing, Pearl takes ‘some eel-grass, and imitated, as best she could, on her bosom, the decoration with which she was so familiar on her mother’s. A letter,–the letter A,–but freshly green instead of scarlet’; (155). Pearl serves as a constant reminder and will not let Prynne forget why she is wearing the letter. Then, when Pearl is playing in the patches of sunlight that the shifting clouds have caused in the forest, she says to Prynne, ‘Mother, the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. I am but a child. It will not flee from me; for I wear nothing on my bosom yet’; (161). Symbolically again, Pearl is reminding Prynne of her sin.
Finally, Pearl’s mission in life ends when Dimmesdale announces to the entire community that he is also a sinner and opens his robe to reveal something on his breast. He asks Pearl for a kiss and she responds with a kiss and tears and the spell is broken. In the future Pearl will become a secure young woman, no longer a source of anguish to her mother. Pearl, whose very existence is the result of a broken Commandment, is able to kiss her father and no longer needed as the allegorical tormentor of Prynne.
Pearl functions as another scarlet letter throughout the book. She torments Prynne and Dimmesdale, continually reminding them of their sin for plucking her off of the tree. She is beautiful yet she is covered with thorns that cannot be removed until Dimmesdale confesses. She is the ‘sweet moral blossom, that may be found along the track, or relieve the darkening close of a tale of human frailty and sorrow’;.
You can complain that roses have thorns or you can rejoice that thorns have