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Jorge Rodriguez

In his novel 'The Scarlet Letter', Nathaniel Hawthorne introduces us to an extremely conservative society with such fundamental values that no one in its population dares to stand in opposition of them. Despite the severity of the punishments that the protagonists of the novel fall victim to, they still conform to the rules of this society rather than rebel against them. Hester Prynne chooses to carry the burden of the scarlet letter even if it was not fitting of her crime, while Reverend Dimmesdale opts to suffer in silence before confessing that he broke the law. In this Puritan community, the only one who takes a stand against such cruelty is Pearl. Having been marginalized ever since her birth, young Pearl has only known a life spent in the outskirts of society. This motivates the child to alienate herself from Puritanism and view the rest of the community as her enemy. Therefore, by becoming a sort of living scarlet letter, as her mother and the narrator remark in the novel, Pearl represents the promise of change in the ruling Puritan society.

The relationship between Pearl and the mark that her mother displayed on her breast is first established in the novel when we are simultaneously introduced to both as Hester walks up the scaffold to be dishonored in front of the crowd. Although her first impulse is to tightly hold on to her baby in order to cover the 'A' on her dress, this moment indicates the shame that Pearl and the scarlet letter produce in Hester as they both remind her and the crowd of her sin. Furthermore, the first indication that Pearl is a kind of living scarlet letter is provided in this same passage as the narrator accounts how Hester "bore in her arms a child, a baby of some three months old, who winked and turned aside its little face from the too vivid light of day; because its existence, heretofore, had brought it acquainted only with the gray twilight of a dungeon" (Hawthorne, p. 40). Like the red 'A' on her mother's breast which represents her exclusion from society, Pearl was born in the outskirts of the community and had so far lived in the company of none other but her mother. Consequently, when she is presented in front of the crowd, she shies away from it, not only in fear of the sun which she did not know, but also to avoid the society that would take away her sense of individuality.

Pearl struggles to preserve her notion of individuality throughout her childhood by not allowing her life to be ruled by the same society that had marginalized her. While growing up, she proves to be rebellious as "the child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder" (p. 62). Much like the scarlet letter is a mark of having sinned against the laws of the community, Pearl becomes a living example of what it means to disrespect society's rules and to act against them. Since Pearl herself is the product of the crime and sin marked by the scarlet letter, she is bound not only to inherit her mother's sense of isolation, but to develop that feeling into a hatred and opposition towards the principles of the society that had separated them.

Therefore, Pearl identifies the members and leaders of the Puritan community as her enemies and as a child plays to destroy them: "The pine-trees, aged, black and solemn, and flinging groans and other melancholy utterances on the breeze, needed little transformation to figure as Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children, whom Pearl smote down and uprooted, most unmercifully" (p. 65). This violent childish game shows how Pearl, through her feeling of isolation and sense of individuality, has alienated herself from the Puritan community to such extent that she views them as their adversaries and finds hope only in getting rid of them. Although only an infantile game, the act of uprooting the Puritans indicates a secret desire to demolish the Puritan laws and principles that had marginalized her and her mother. Consequently, Pearl is the only character in the novel that provides us with the prospect of a change in the standards of this conservative society.

It is through her alienation from the Puritan society that Pearl consequently becomes "the scarlet letter endowed with life" (p. 69), as the narrator of the novel remarks. Even Hester confesses to feel the same way about Pearl as she says: "She is my happiness— she is my torture, none the less! Pearl keeps me here in life! Pearl punishes me too! See ye not, she is the scarlet letter, only capable of being loved, and so endowed with a million-fold the power of retribution for my sin?" (p. 76). Since both the scarlet letter and her daughter are marks of her sin, Hester is doomed to live with the memory of her crime. But moreover, Pearl takes advantage of her similarity to the scarlet letter to voice a protest against the harsh and conservative values of the community. It is not surprising then that Pearl has no problem in marking herself with a scarlet letter of her own: "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!" (p. 115). It is most remarkable that this young scarlet letter, not only endowed with life but also with a voice, wants to be identified by such a shameful mark and also takes prides in her association to it.

Since Pearl feels so strongly and closely related to the scarlet letter, she cannot bear to see her mother to part ways with the mark she always wore on her dress during that fateful day in the forest: "Pearl...now suddenly burst into a fit of passion, gesticulating violently, and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant contortions" (p. 134). Hester suggests that this tantrum is due to the fact that the child is so used to identifying her mother by the scarlet letter, that she know does not seem to recognize her without it. And indeed, Pearl is used to associating her mother with the label she wears on her bosom, but her outburst has nothing to do with a "change in the accustomed aspect of things that are daily before [her] eyes" (p. 134), as Hester suggests. Pearl reacts so violently because by getting rid of the scarlet letter, her mother seems to be eliminating the mark that sets her apart from the community that has been so cruel to them. According to Pearl's perspective, it seems that if Hester does not wear the red 'A' on dress, she is embracing the conservative laws and principles of Puritanism and rejecting the hope for change that Pearl represents. Therefore, since the scarlet letter and the child are so akin that they seem to be the same, Pearl views the dismissal of the shameful mark as a rejection of her opposition to the Puritan society, but most importantly, a rejection of herself.

Pearl considers that not only her mother is a partisan in her campaign against Puritanism, but views Reverend Dimmesdale as a supporter too as the infant somehow suspects that the minister has secretly sinned against the community like her mother. After repeatedly raising suspicion about the motives for Dimmesdale to keep his hand over his chest wherever he went, Pearl invites the minister to join her and Hester up on the scaffold in front of the rest of the town: "Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?" (p. 101). But unlike Pearl who takes pride in being associated with the scarlet letter, Dimmesdale does not have the courage to publicly display the burden of his shame.

When the minister does confess to the community to have broken its laws, Pearl embraces her father, willingly for the first time: "Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken...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 forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it" (p. 162). Instead of accepting her father's public confession, however, and welcoming him as a supporter in her struggle against Puritanism, she appears to be relieved of her duty thanks to the minister's revelation. It is mentioned that a spell is broken by which Pearl seems to be set at liberty to live a normal life without having to worry about fighting with conservative principles and laws. And it does seem to be the case that by upsetting the balance of the community by proving that one of its leaders can commit what was considered to be a terrible crime, Dimmesdale accomplishes Pearl's mission of destroying the fundamental principles upon which the Puritan's laws were based on. Therefore, she no longer has to continue her strife against the community which had marginalized her nor does she have to keep viewing all of society as her enemy and alienating herself from it. The spell of her anger, hatred, and isolation had thus been broken.

Pearl does indeed continue to live a normal life, especially after she receives the immense fortune she inherits: "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 day, in the New World" (p. 164). Does this mean then that she did not live up to the prospect of change in the laws of the community that she offered as a child? Pearl in fact appears to have become a part of the society that once had marginalized her thanks to this inheritance, but this does not mean that her opposition to it as a child was a complete failure. It was thanks to her opposition to this society, however, that Reverend Dimmesdale is moved to speak out against the absurdity of Puritanism and consequently relieves her of this responsibility. Therefore, although she does not persevere in her strife all throughout her adulthood, through her father's confession at the end of the novel, Pearl does not fail in her struggle against the society that had discriminated against her. In fact, this inheritance may be viewed as a reward for the courage she displayed as a young child.

Why must we then continue insisting that the scarlet letter strictly stands for a word starting with the letter 'A'? It could just as easily stand for the young infant Pearl and her opposition to a conservative, Puritan society. Even if she is no longer a sort of scarlet letter endowed with life in her adulthood, she most certainly becomes the promise of change that the letter stood for during her childhood. This interpretation of the meaning of this shameful mark is no less significant in modern times just because we no longer live under the ruling of archaic Puritan laws and habits. As today we still have to cope with the oppression of absurd conservative rules and rulers, by interpreting the meaning of scarlet letter as Pearl's protest, we are given hope that these laws will change.

Work Cited:
Nathaniel Hawthorne. 'The Scarlet Letter'. 1850; rpt. Norton Critical Edition. Ed. Sculley Bradley et. al. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978.

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