Critical Essay on The Scarlet Letter: Analysis of Pearl and How She Functions

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1166 Words
Date:  2022-03-26


The Scarlet Letter, a book written by Nathaniel Hawthorne's, made use of symbolism to explain different messages. Pearl was the illegitimate daughter to Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne. Her name was a symbolic expression and was used by the author intentionally to pass the intended image about her. In the book, Pearl is portrayed as a dynamic character who changes from time to time. Pearl functions to bring out the traits of other characters and mostly those of her parents. She is the reason why her mother confessed of her sins. Hester had never felt secure in Pearl's presence and she always reminded her about her adultery. Her mother had been outcast by the church and the society and the letter "A" remained a consistent image of her past and Pearl always asked of its purpose. The author states the following; "But she named the infant 'Pearl' as being of great price,--purchased with all she had,--her mother's only treasure!" (Hawthorne's 168).As she matures, she becomes the public reminder of the sins that her mother had done. At some instant, the author explains how the local government wanted to take her away from her parents but her mother said it was the reminder of her sins and that she should not be taken away.

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Pearl wanted her father Dimmesdale into her life but required her to confess his sins first. She functioned in a way that her parents were consistently reminded of the past mistakes that they needed to correct. For example, her father could not hold Pearl and her mother's hands in public until he confessed of his sins in public. The condition pushed him to confess and change her ways. She also symbolized truth and hope in the family. As a symbol of the truth, in the forest when her parents were planning to leave, she kissed her mother's cheeks and asked her father Dimmesdale why he would not walk back to town with them holding hands. She wanted the two to be true to their relationship. She acts as a symbol of hope by rising from the unwanted child to the top of her social class. Her actions help to bring out the traits of the characters in the book and she used her efforts to make them accept their fate and past.

The Symbolism of Pearl

Hawthorne used Pearl to express the symbolism in the work and her life changed several times across the book. At the early stages, the symbolism in her is used to indicate the sins that her mother had done and why she had named her Pearl. As indicated above, Hawthorne made it clear that the family had secrets that needed to be made public. The moment in the forest when she kissed her mother, Pearl also kissed the letter "A" and her mother felt mocked. She questioned her actions and wondered why she would show her love and yet remind her of her sins. The symbolism at this point is clear that Hawthorne wanted the reminder to be consistent. She stated the following;

'That was not kind!' said Hester. 'When thou hast shown me a little love, thou mockest me!' 'Why doth the minister sit yonder?' asked Pearl... 'Doth he love us?' said Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence, into her mother's face. 'Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together into the town?' (Hawthorne 407).

The moment was used by Hawthorne to bring put the intentions that Pearl had and how she functioned to meet the targets she had in her parents. The symbolism of hope can be seen in the later parts of the book. The general understanding in the book is that Pearl was born after adulterous actions and that she did not have a bright future. However, she came out of this strong and gave the symbol of hope on page 145 as seen below;

So Pearl-- the elf-child, --the demon offspring, as some people, up to that epoch, persisted in considering her,--became the richest heiress of her ay, in the New World. Not improbably, this circumstance wrought a very material change in the public estimation; and, had the mother and child remained here, little Pearl, at a marriageable period of life, might have mingled her wild blood with the lineage of the devoutest Puritan among them all. But, in no long time after the physician's death, the wearer of the scarlet letter disappeared, and Pearl along with her (Hawthorne 495).

The above shows that she rose from the unwanted and outcast child to the richest heiress and she had a good life. The upgraded life is in contrast to the expectations that the audience could have because it is a twist of events. Hawthorne had shown the doomed fate of Pearl through the impressions that she did not have a heavenly father. Pearl has persistently told her mother that the heavenly father was not for her and she did not deserve this father. The assumption was that being illegitimate, born out of wedlock, she was not worthy in the eyes of God and she was doomed. However, when she rose to become a rich heiress, then Hawthorne achieved the intention to show hope.

Pearl's Development

In the beginning, Pearl is portrayed as an innocent child who only wonders the meaning of the letter "A" that her mother had on her chest. She asked her about it and did not understand it. As she grows, she develops more understanding and she knows her past, the sins of her parents and she wants them to confess. The development indicates the change in age, knowledge, and will. Her changes also affect the people around her because she pushes them to make the necessary changes in their lives. As she developed, the meaning of the letter "A" also changed. At first, it was supposed to indicate that her mother was an Adulterer but at the end, it changed to mean "Able". When Pearl married a European aristocrat, she used to send occasional letters to her mother who had come back to her hometown to live in the old cottage and to do charitable work. At this point, Pearl is a pillar of hope for her mother and she gives her more hope about life.


The work of Hawthorne expresses different versions of the same person, Pearl. The earlier stages exhibit pearl as a symbol of the past sins that her parents had committed but she changes to a sign of hope and truth. The work by Hawthorne can be termed as composed and organized in a way that the readers can easily understand and relate to the themes in the book. It is also educative and can be related to the way people live today, whereby infidelity and adultery make people live a regretful life but there is hope for change and a better life.

Work Cited

Hawthorne's, Nathaniel. "The scarlet letter." 21st Century Voices (2003): 83.

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Critical Essay on The Scarlet Letter: Analysis of Pearl and How She Functions. (2022, Mar 26). Retrieved from

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