Children are, by nature, incredibly sensitive creatures. They can sense almost any emotion an adult might feel just by observing a particular persons body language and facial expressions. Such is the case with the youthful Pearl from the novel The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorn. As the daughter of the adulteress Hester Prynne, the townspeople view Pearl as a demon in an angels clothing; as an imp who not only knows exactly what the letter “A” signifies on the breast of her mother, but as the demon who placed it there as well. They also believe Pearl uses this information against Hester by constantly mentioning the letter in order to make Hester extremely uncomfortable. This is not true.
” Nay, Mother, I have told all I know, said Pearl more seriously than she was wont to speakBut 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? She took her mothers hand in both her own, and gazed into her eyes with an earnestness that was seldom seen in her wild and capricious character” (Hawthorne 175).
This dialogue does not seem to be the words of a demon, but a child who is utterly curious about what the letter on her mothers bosom means. One must not underestimate Pearls intelligence though. In fact, Pearl is not the demon many consider her to be; instead she is intelligent and sensitive towards her surroundings and can thus understand much about the scarlet letter her mother wears.
“The neighboring townspeoplehad given out that poor little Pearl was a demon offspring; such as, ever since old Catholic times, had occasionally been seen on earth, through the agency of their of their mothers sin, and to promote some foul and wicked purpose” (Hawthorne 95-96). From this statement and many others similar to it throughout the novel, many readers are given the impression that Pearl is a possessed child. Before any type of statement can be made on Pearls intelligence or sensitivity, it is imperative for one to understand these references are an attempt on Hawthornes part to display to the reader a fragment of Puritanical Society. By no means is Pearl an imp. She is a curious child and, until one separates Hawthornes fictitious references towards Pearls demonic soul and Pearls true intelligent nature, a character analysis of Pearls identity cannot be created.
With the rumor of Pearls impish nature dispelled, one can now study her inquisitive and sensitive nature. When Hester Prynne refuses to reveal to Pearl the identity of the young childs father, Pearls burning curiosity quickly ignites and forces her to scream out the following demand. “Tell me! Tell me!It is thou that must tell me!” (Hawthorne 95) This is not the only time Pearls curiosity is sparked throughout the novel. In fact, there are many times where Pearl becomes inquisitive over one mystery or another; this next example is one of them. “Why, what is this, Mother?Wherefore have all the people left their work today? Is it a playday for the whole world” (Hawthorne 224)? In this situation, Pearl is overwhelmed by curiosity, as the entire population of Boston is decked in their finery for a reason that Pearl is not aware of. Instead of “keeping silent,” as a behaved Puritan child would, Pearl spills out question after question in hopes of understanding something that is an enigma to her.
While Pearls natural curiosity drives her on the quest of discovering the truth behind the scarlet letter, it is her sensitive and intelligent nature which answers a few of the questions associated with the mystery. An example of this sensitive nature occurs after the custody battle in which Hester fights for the right to remain as the guardian of Pearl. “Pearlstole softly towards him, and taking his hand in the grasp of both her own, laid cheek against it” (Hawthorne 112). This seems to be Pearls act of gratitude towards the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. One might wonder why the short-tempered child would behave in such a sweet way towards Dimmesdale. Perhaps she notes her mothers frantic voice and posture as Hester pleads with the men whose wish it is to take Pearl away and give her a “proper Christian upbringing.” Pearl might also notice Dimmesdales request that the child remain with her mother, and then the softening of Hesters face as her crisis ends. Without hearing a single word uttered, Pearl can easily see how Dimmesdale saves both her and her mother from a situation neither would enjoy. Thus, the loving gesture Pearl makes towards Dimmesdale is her silent way of saying, “Thank you for the gift of youth you have just given me.”
Using Pearls characteristics of curiosity and sensitivity, one can make assumptions about whether or not Pearl understands what the scarlet letter symbolizes. While she is too young to possibly comprehend Puritanical sin and punishment, Pearl can easily understand that the letter is her mothers chastisement and embarrassment. “And, Mother, he has his hand over his heart! Is it because, when the minister wrote his name in the book, the Black Man set his mark in that place? But why does he not wear it outside his bosom, as thou dost, Mother” (Hawthorne 184)? Through this statement made by Pearl, one may realize Pearl does see a connection between Hesters letter and Dimmesdales habit of covering his heart with his hand, although she does not know what this connection is.
Pearl is amazing child, and perhaps one of the only many-sided characters in this novel. While the townsfolk and even Pearls own mother are afraid of the child, Pearl is, under close examination, a naturally inquisitive and temperamental child. Although some readers of this novel may not care to read between the lines and see beyond the labeling of demon and imp, the true Pearl is completely different from this stereotype. The real Pearl, the inquisitive, intelligent, and beautiful creature she is, becomes the symbol for salvation in this novel. Pearl may be the product of sin and “filthiness,” yet she possesses traits that make her an amazing child. Indeed, Pearl is the rosebush which grows near the prison door: she is the one bright spot the prisoners of this novel see as they watch from their small windows in the dungeon of their minds.