The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Quotes

Pearl

Quotes Pearl
God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals, and to be finally a blessed soul in heaven!

Chapter VI focuses the reader’s attention on Hester Prynne’s daughter, named because she was of great price, “purchased” with all her mother possessed. Like the scarlet “A”, the infant Pearl was attached to her mother’s breast both physically for nourishment and emotionally, as Hester loves her dearly. To the community, Pearl represents the result of Hester’s sin. To Hester and perhaps the reader, Pearl represents not only the best of Hester and her attachment to all humanity but also Hester’s salvation.

Pearl, that wild and flighty little elf, stole softly towards him, and, taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid her cheek against it; a caress so tender, and withal so unobtrusive, that her mother, who was looking on, asked herself,—“Is that my Pearl?”

While visiting Governor Bellingham’s house with Hester, Mr. Wilson, Roger Chillingworth, and Reverend Dimmesdale, Pearl notices that Reverend Dimmesdale has stepped away from the group. Pearl then goes to him and performs this loving and intimate gesture. In response, Reverend Dimmesdale lays his hand on Pearl’s head and kisses her brow. This tender moment between the two main characters foreshadows both the budding relationship between father and daughter and their final kiss at the novel’s climax.

And there stood the minister, with his hand over his heart; and Hester Prynne, with the embroidered letter glimmering on her bosom; and little Pearl, herself a symbol, and the connecting link between those two.

Here, Reverend Dimmesdale, Hester, and Pearl stand together on the scaffold, the meteor blazing over their heads making what Reverend Dimmesdale believes to be an “A” in the sky. In this instant, the three main characters are united in a heightened moment: the two adults with their scarlet “As”—one literal, one imagined—and the child who stands in between, a physical manifestation of their love. As one of the most poignant moments in the novel, this detail underlines Pearl’s role of unifier, hope for the future, and symbolic peacemaker.

The minister—painfully embarrassed, but hoping that a kiss might prove a talisman to admit him into the child’s kindlier regards—bent forward, and impressed one on her brow. Hereupon, Pearl broke away from her mother, and, running to the brook, stooped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcome kiss was quite washed off, and diffused through a long lapse of the gliding water.

Unlike her warm response to Reverend Dimmesdale’s earlier kiss at Governor Bellingham’s house, this time, in the forest, Pearl reacts negatively and dramatically to Reverend Dimmesdale’s affection. While Pearl’s washing off her brow in the brook reflects her young age, readers might wonder if this action reflects Pearl’s feelings of jealousy or confusion about the situation she is in. Pearl makes clear that she will accept love and affection on her terms only. Her stubbornness is a result of having a courageous heart.

Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it.

At the novel’s climax, just as Reverend Dimmesdale is about to die, his awful secret finally exposed, Pearl honors him with an affectionate, forgiving, and tearful kiss. Even though she is still a child, Pearl understands the dramatic scene that has just unfolded in broad daylight in front of the entire community. She is growing into a woman of the world. It is significant that the narrator refers to Reverend Dimmesdale as “her father” here, a first in the novel in reference to Pearl.