The Scarlet Letter

Symbolism is the practice of representing things by symbols. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a book of much symbolism. Set in 16th century New England, the book starts with the public punishment of Hester Prynne, a convicted adulterer. One of the most complex and misunderstood symbols in the book is Hesters illegitimate daughter, Pearl. Throughout the story, she develops into a dynamic symbol – one that is always changing. Pearl represents her mothers punishment, a rose, and the scarlet letter.


In The Scarlet Letter, the Puritans forced Hester to wear a scarlet letter A across for her chest, for the crime of adultery. The punishment continued as Hester was treated as outcast and mocked by the town. Tomorrow would bring its own trial with it; so would the next day, so would the next, the narrator explained. On the other hand, Gods treatment of Hester for her sin was quite different than just a physical token: he gave Hester a very unique child which she named Pearl. The child was a constant mental and physical reminder to Hester of what she had done wrong and how she could not escape it. In this aspect, Pearl symbolized Gods way of punishing Hester for adultery.
She named the infant Pearl as of being of great price-purchased with all her mother had, the narrator says. Pearl grew to be a very passionate and lively young girl. She becomes a contradicting factor in her mothers life. To her mother, Pearl symbolized the rosebush outside of the jail, because at some times she could be bright and vibrant. However at other times, she could be wilting. It was at these times when she was wilting that brought Hester the most grief.
One final way in which Pearl symbolized something in the novel was her association with the scarlet letter. Hester began to think of the letter and her daughter as both the object of her affection and the emblem of her guilt and torture. Hester clothed the child in bright crimson dressed. That, combined with a vivid complexion, gave Pearl the appearance of the scarlet letter. The townspeople began to notice the similarities, also. While Hester and Pearl walked through town, someone announced, There is the woman of the scarlet letter; and, of a truth, moreover, there is the likeness of the scarlet letter running along by her side!
In conclusion, Pearl was a source of many different kinds of symbolism. From being a rose, to representing the scarlet letter A, she was a burden, yet consolation for Hester. And as a final note, Pearl was more then her mothers only treasure; she was her mothers only source of hope.

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