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The Scarlet Letter

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Her final employment was to gather sea-weed, of various kinds, and make herself a scarf, or mantle, and a head-dress, and thus assume the aspect of a little mermaid. She inherited her mother’s gift for devising drapery and costume. As the last touch to her mermaid’s garb, Pearl took some eel-grass, and imitated, as best 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! The child bent her chin upon her breast, and contemplated this device with strange interest; even as if the one only thing for which she had been sent into the world was to make out its hidden import. Her final occupation was to gather seaweed of various sorts. She made herself a scarf and a headdress and dressed up like a little mermaid. She had her mother’s gift for devising drapery and costume. As the final touch to her mermaid costume, Pearl took some eelgrass and imitated on her bosom, as best she could, the decoration that she was so used to seeing on her mother’s. A letter—the letter A—but green instead of scarlet. The child lowered her chin to her breast and contemplated this design with great interest, as if deciphering the letter were the only thing she had been sent into the world to do.
“I wonder if mother will ask me what it means!” thought Pearl. “I wonder if mother will ask me what it means!” thought Pearl.
Just then, she heard her mother’s voice, and, flitting along as lightly as one of the little sea-birds, appeared, before Hester Prynne, dancing, laughing, and pointing her finger to the ornament upon her bosom. Just then she heard her mother’s voice. Flitting along as lightly as one of the seabirds, she appeared before Hester Prynne, dancing, laughing, and pointing her finger to the symbol upon her bosom.
“My little Pearl,” said Hester, after a moment’s silence, “the green letter, and on thy childish bosom, has no purport. But dost thou know, my child, what this letter means which thy mother is doomed to wear?” “My little Pearl,” said Hester, after a moment’s silence, “the green letter on your childish breast has no meaning. Do you know, my child, what this letter means, which your mother is condemned to wear?”
“Yes, mother,” said the child. “It is the great letter A. Thou hast taught it me in the horn-book.” “Yes, mother,” said the child. “It is capital A. You taught me to read it in the alphabet book.”
Hester looked steadily into her little face; but, though there was that singular expression which she had so often remarked in her black eyes, she could not satisfy herself whether Pearl really attached any meaning to the symbol. She felt a morbid desire to ascertain the point. Hester looked steadily into her little face. Though there was that odd expression that she so often saw in her black eyes, Hester could not decide whether Pearl really attached any meaning to the symbol. She felt a strange urge to settle the point.
“Dost thou know, child, wherefore thy mother wears this letter?” “Do you know, child, why your mother wears this letter?”
“Truly do I!” answered Pearl, looking brightly into her mother’s face. “It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart!” “Truly I do!” answered Pearl, looking brightly into her mother’s face. “It is for the same reason that the minister keeps his hand over his heart!”
“And what reason is that?” asked Hester, half-smiling at the absurd incongruity of the child’s observation; but, on second thoughts, turning pale. “What has the letter to do with any heart, save mine?” “And what reason is that?” asked Hester, half-smiling at the absurd coincidence of the child’s observation, but on second thought turning pale. “What does the letter have to do with any heart but mine?”
“Nay, mother, I have told all I know,” said Pearl, more seriously than she was wont to speak. “Ask yonder old man whom thou hast been talking with! It may be he can tell. But in good earnest now, mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean?—and why dost thou wear it on thy bosom?—and why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?” “I have told all that I know, mother,” said Pearl, more seriously than she usually spoke. “Ask that old man over there who you have been talking with! Maybe he knows. But seriously, no, mother dear, what does this scarlet letter mean? Why do you wear it on your bosom? And why does the minister keep his hand over his heart?”
She took her mother’s hand in both her own, and gazed into her eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild and capricious character. The thought occurred to Hester, that the child might really be seeking to approach her with childlike confidence, and doing what she could, and as intelligently as she knew how, to establish a meeting-point of sympathy. It showed Pearl in an unwonted aspect. Heretofore, the mother, while loving her child with the intensity of a sole affection, had schooled herself to hope for little other return than the waywardness of an April breeze; which spends its time in airy sport, and has its gusts of inexplicable passion, and is petulant in its best of moods, and chills oftener than caresses you, when you take it to your bosom; in requital of which misdemeanours, it will sometimes, of its own vague purpose, kiss your cheek with a kind of doubtful tenderness, and play gently with your hair, and then begone about its other idle business, leaving a dreamy pleasure at your heart. And this, moreover, was a mother’s estimate of the child’s disposition. Any other observer might have seen few but unamiable traits, and have given them a far darker coloring. But now the idea came strongly into Hester’s mind, that Pearl, with her remarkable precocity and acuteness, might already have approached the age when she could be made a friend, and intrusted with as much of her mother’s sorrows as could be imparted, without irreverence either to the parent or the child. In the little chaos of Pearl’s character, there might be seen emerging—and could have been, from the very first—the stedfast principles of an unflinching courage,—an uncontrollable will,—a sturdy pride, which might be disciplined into self-respect—and a bitter scorn of many things, which, when examined, might be found to have the taint of falsehood in them. She possessed affections, too, though hitherto acrid and disagreeable, as are the richest flavors of unripe fruit. With all these sterling attributes, thought Hester, the evil which she inherited from her mother must be great indeed, if a noble woman do not grow out of this elfish child. She took her mother’s hand in both of her own and gazed into her eyes with a seriousness that she rarely showed. It occurred to Hester that the child might really be trying to enter into her confidence, doing what she could as intelligently as she could to establish a rapport with her mother. This thought revealed Pearl in a new light. Until now the mother, though she loved her child with the intensity of an only love, had forced herself to hope for little in return except the unruliness of an April breeze. Such a breeze spends its time playing breeze-games, sometimes gusting passionately for no good reason, behaving uncooperatively even in its best moods, and chills you more often than it caresses you when you try to hug it. To pay you back for these small offenses, the breeze will sometimes, for its own obscure reasons, kiss your cheek with a questionable tenderness, play gently with your hair, and go about its other pointless business, leaving a dreamy pleasure in your heart. And this was how the child’s own mother saw her. Any other observer might have seen almost entirely undesirable traits and have viewed them far more harshly. But now the idea came into Hester’s mind that Pearl, with her precocious awareness, might already be growing old enough to be treated as a friend. Hester might entrust Pearl with as many of her sorrows as could be shared between a mother and daughter. In the little chaos of Pearl’s character, good traits might be seen emerging. Perhaps they had been there all along: unflinching courage, an unbreakable will, a sturdy pride that could be disciplined into self-respect, and a bitter distaste for hypocrisy. She had feelings too. They had been bitter and disagreeable until now, but so are the richest flavors of unripe fruit. With all of these excellent traits, thought Hester, if Pearl doesn’t grow into a noble woman, she must have inherited an awful lot of evil from her mother.

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