A Different View of Pearl

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A Different View of Pearl

Emily Feenstra

Pearl is one of the greatest mysteries in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. She is mischievous and far too omniscient, always seeming to see the underlining of circumstances that the rest of Boston doesn't take notice of. How does she seem to understand the Black Man? How does she appear to know Mr. Dimmesdale is her father? The answer to these questions may lay in the questions themselves. Perhaps she doesn't understand the Black Man at all, and perhaps she doesn't realize Mr. Dimmesdale is her father. Pearl could very well be misrepresented in The Scarlet Letter. So much of her character is relayed through the narrator that the reader's understanding of Pearl becomes the narrator's understanding of her. By examining her actions and dialogue, and ignoring all the thoughts of the narrator, she becomes an entirely different character. What follows is the rewriting of several scenes through the eyes of Pearl, and an analysis of how such a change, while staying true to the dialogue and actions of the original scene, completely change who Pearl is.

The first scene comes from chapters seven and eight. Pearl accompanies her mother to the Governor's house to drop off a pair of gloves he had ordered.

Walking with my mother is always fun. I love looking at the flowers and the animals in the woods, and sometimes Mother even lets me run off on my own for a little while. Well, one day, I was walking with her to deliver some piece of sewing she had finished to one of the important men from town. She had dressed me in a pretty red tunic, with all sorts of nice gold thread sewn in. All of a sudden, some children took notice of us and started flinging mud! Well, I had been so thoroughly enjoying all the flowers along the path that their interruption mad me really mad. Mother wasn't doing anything to stop them, so I took matters into my own hands. Who were they to fling mud at us, anyway? I hate the towns' children. They're always being mean to me and looking for quarrels. So I ran at them, yelling anything that came into my mind. Sure enough, that scared them off.

Before much longer, we reached the house where the man lived. It was a big wooden house, and best of all, it sparkled. It was like the sunlight was friends with it, because it just kept dancing with that wall. I decided to dance with it too. I asked Mother if I could have all the sunshine, but she said I must gather my own and that she had none to give me. This made me sad, but I had little time to think about it since Mother knocked on the big front door. A man in a blue coat answered. He said the Governor Belly-ham was there, but that he was busy. I guess that's who Mother wanted to give the sewing to. Mother said we would enter and wait, and the man in blue let us in.

There were all sorts of things in that house that we didn't have at home. My favorite was a knight's armor, all shiny and big. It was so shiny that I could see myself in it! Then when Mother moved, I could see her and the big red A on her chest. In the metal, the A looked really big and round. I had never seen anything quite like it before. I showed Mother, but she didn't seem to like it. Instead, she called me over to look at the garden. There were cabbages and pumpkins and apple trees, and best of all, rose-bushes. The roses were so pretty. I really wanted one. When Mother said no, I got upset. I didn't understand why I couldn't have one; there were plenty of roses and no one was enjoying them. They were even more beautiful than the flowers in the woods. Mother got mad when I cried, saying the Governor was coming.

Pretty soon, a whole group of men appeared. Two of them had beards, one white and one gray, one was rather thin, and the other looked a bit frightening. The one with the gray beard, who was the Governor, came towards me. Him and the man with the white beard, who I learned was Mr. Wilson, spoke of me for a while. I tried to ignore them and look at the roses, but them Mr. Wilson tried to bring me towards him. This was quite strange. As far as I could remember, Mother was the only person who had ever touched me. And now a perfect stranger! I ran out the window as quick as I could. But he didn't stop there! He asked me who made me. Goodness, I know who made me well enough, for Mother had often spoken of the Heavenly Father. But I wasn't going to give this man the satisfaction of getting the answer he was looking for. Thinking of the pretty roses, and trying to come up with a way of letting him know how much I liked them in hopes of him offering me one, I replied that I was plucked by Mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison door. This didn't make any of the men happy at all, and none of them even thought to offer me a rose. Mother grabbed me in her arms and held me a little too tightly. She was very angry. She argued with the Governor and Mr. Wilson for some time about scarlet and sins and God. Then Mother asked the thin man, Mr. Dimmesdale, to help her argue. He did; he seemed to convince the men of what Mother wanted, after some time. I was quite happy that he had made things better, and I wanted to thank him. I was afraid to speak, being as the last thing I had said had caused such a problem, so I took his hand in mine. He put his hand on my head and kissed my forehead. Normally I wouldn't let anyone touch me, like Mr. Wilson, but since he had helped Mother, I decided it was all right. It felt silly after a moment, though, and I couldn't help but laugh at how strange it felt to have a stranger's hand on my head, so I ran off to find more treasures like the suit of armor. Eventually Mother finished speaking with the men, and we left for home. But as we left the house and started back down the path, an ugly woman called from the window. She asked Mother to go to the forest with her that night. Mother said no, which was a little disappointing. I had never been to the forest at night, and it sounded like so much fun. Instead, I walked home with Mother, where we quietly ate supper and went to bed.

This is an example of a different understanding of Pearl. The actions and dialogue are the same as the original scene, although Pearl doesn't follow all of the dialogue or find it all important, and therefore quite a bit is cut. Through the eyes of Pearl, her actions do not appear demon-like or witch-like as the other characters in the book claims she is. Rather, her actions make sense. The reader can understand the motivation behind her actions. Where she seemed like a witch while screaming for a rose, she becomes a normal three-year-old who really, really wants a rose. Her mother's attempts to quiet her only escalate her fit. She doesn't want to be told "no," and she doesn't want to think anyone can control her mood. Of course, as soon as the men enter the room, she forgets the rose. Where she originally seems like an imp as she scatters away from Mr. Wilson, she becomes a child fearful of strangers and familiar only with her mother's touch. I'm sure I'm not alone in remembering sitting in the grocery cart and bursting into tears as soon as a kind old woman tries to move the cart to reach the apples. There is nothing different in Pearl's circumstance. Strangers scare her, no matter what the authoritative figure tells her. And where she seems much too insightful as she takes her father's hand, she becomes a child who cares deeply for her mother. She wants to thank him for helping her mother without risking the commencement of another argument, so she resorts to a non-verbal means of thanks. She doesn't have any unexplainable understanding that he is her father, as the book implies. She transforms from a "witch," "imp of evil," or "elf" into a normal child, in this case a child or three years. Few three-year-olds want to be touched by a stranger. But three-year-olds also have some understanding of what does and does not please their mothers. And, in most cases, they would rather have a happy mother than an angry one.

The next scene is from chapters sixteen, eighteen, and nineteen. Pearl accompanies her mother to meet Mr. Dimmesdale in the woods.

On a gray spring day, Mother and I walked into the woods. I wasn't at all sure why as we departed, but I was too excited to play in the woods to give it much thought. Occasionally the sun shone through the trees as we followed the small path deeper into the woods. I ran ahead, catching the sun whenever I could. But as soon as Mother caught me, the sun disappeared. "Mother," I said, "the sunshine does not love you. It runs and hides itself, because of something on your bosom. There it is playing a good way off. Stand you here, and let me run and catch it. I am but a child, it will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!"

Mother became rather solemn at this, and said, "Nor ever will, my child, I hope."

"And why not, Mother?" I had always thought it was part of growing up. I had noticed that the other women in town did not have such letters, but I supposed they had their own marks that would pass to their children. With this in mind I asked, "Will not it come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?" Mother didn't want to answer, and told me instead to catch the sunshine, so I did. It seemed that the letter on her bosom was what made her unhappy, and sunshine only likes happiness. I ran to the sunshine again, and sure enough, as soon as Mother caught up, the sunshine disappeared again.

Soon after, Mother wanted to sit. As we found a place to rest, I asked her about the Black Man that I had heard so much about the other night at the house where she had watched. I told her how the old dame had said the scarlet letter was the Black Man's mark on her, and asked if it was true, if she had indeed ever met the Black Man. I was very excited to hear, for the Black Man sounded so mysterious and wonderful, always going in the woods at night, as I had always longed to do. To my excitement, Mother said that she had indeed met with the Black Man once, and that the letter was indeed his mark. How I wished I could meet this Black Man! I wished he would meet me in the woods, and show me the forest in its cover of darkness. Maybe he would even introduce me to other townspeople, and maybe they would be different and kind.

While I continued to think, Mother found a nice pile of moss by a brook and we sat. Its sad babble soon interrupted my thoughts. Mother told me it told her of her sorrows, and if I had any, it would tell me of mine as well. Suddenly footsteps could be heard approaching, and Mother told me to run off. I was sure it must be the Black Man, but as he came closer, I saw it was only the minister. He had is hand over his heart, as it seemed he always did when I saw him. When I asked Mother if this was the mark the Black Man had left on him, she refused to answer, so I finally left to play.

I picked all sorts of lovely flowers, and made them into a crown for my head and a sash for my waist. I also found some delicious red berries, all juicy and ripe. I watched the squirrels as they ate their nuts, and one dropped a nut onto my head. I saw a timid little fox and a family of quail. I was still watching the animals when Mother called me back. But as I approached, I saw she was still with Mr. Dimmesdale. They looked happy together. I didn't like that Mother was with someone else. I had never seen her look so happy with anyone before. I became angry that she never seemed so happy with me. This man, who hardly truly knew us and our life together, was stealing Mother away from me! I slowed my walk, which made Mother unhappy. She continued to beckon me towards them. As I came closer, I noticed she was not wearing her letter. This was too much. Not only was she happier with the minister than she was with me, but she wasn't even wearing her letter! Her letter, which she was never without. It was as if her hair had suddenly changed to flaxen or she had grown ten feet. I had to control something. I stopped and pointed at her bosom, and as she lightly dismissed the lack of the letter, I felt anger rising within me. I stamped my foot and waived my arms and gave a yell. She had to listen! Finally, she stooped down and placed the letter on her bosom once more.

Now I had to show the minister who really knew Mother, who really loved her and cared about her. I quickly kissed her brow and her cheeks to make sure he realized who was most important to her. But then Mr. Dimmesdale kissed my brow! He was not a part of our family! He should not be able to show equal affection for me as I had shown for Mother, for he hardly knew me, and could not possibly love me. I certainly did not love him. Full of rage and jealousy, I ran to the brook and washed away the kiss. I dared not go near them again, but rather waited till he left before I approached Mother again.

Once again, the actions and dialogue (although cut down) are essentially the same as the book. What has changed is the perspective. By going inside the mind of Pearl, it becomes much clearer as to what she was thinking. In the book, the reader is left to believe Pearl has some unbelievable understanding of the scarlet letter and Dimmesdale's covered heart. Here, her curiosity about the scarlet letter is a child's misunderstanding. She believes it is something that she will gain as she grows older, and believes other women pass other marks on to their daughters, although not necessarily as visible. She heard a story about the Black Man, and as children do, wants to know more about it. She is not obsessed with evil as she seems in the book; just curious. Having heard the scarlet letter was left on her mother by the Black Man, she wants to know more. And the fact that he can be met in the woods at night only heightens her curiosity, for she loves the woods, and has wanted to see them at night for some time. She believes the Black Man might be able to show them to her.

Her reaction to seeing her mother and Dimmesdale together is also explained without the demon context. She sees that her mother is happy with someone other than herself, and becomes jealous. In her jealousy, she refuses to listen to her mother's demands, and does what she can to control the situation and bring the attention back to herself and her relationship with her mother. She demands that her mother put the letter back on because she can control it. She kisses her mother to remind her mother and show Dimmesdale who she really loves and cares about. Thus, when Dimmesdale kisses Pearl, Pearl takes it as defying her authority and his attempt to creep between her and her mother. She quickly washes it off to show him that he cannot come between them.

Even through the transformation of just two scenes, Pearl changes from the "demon child" and "witch" that the narrator presents her as, to a relatively average child. She cares deeply for her mother. She is intelligent and perceptive, but not to the unrealistic extent that she is presented as by the narrator. In these scenes, she becomes a real child, with rational motivations for her actions. She is entertained by the dilapidated reflection a suit of armor presents; she is afraid of a stranger and runs from Mr. Wilson; she is curious about the story of an old woman and questions its reality; and she is jealous of her mother's attention and counters it by controlling what she can. Pearl is not necessarily strange, but she is represented as strange by the narrator. Through these scenes, she becomes a rational three- and seven-year-old.

Works Cited
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam Books, 1986.

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