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Scarlet Letter Paper
"What is one man’s poison…is another’s meat or drink," Beaumont and Fletcher wrote in one of their plays. Almost everything in the world is interpretable in at least two conflicting ways. In The Scarlet Letter, the Puritan society shuns a character named Pearl, yet the author, who lived in the Romantic period, views her with awe and reverence. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s use of nature imagery in The Scarlet Letter reflects Pearl’s wild, capricious character that serves as a constant reminder of Hester’s sin and whose romantically idealistic beauty frightens the Puritan society.
In Hawthorne’s descriptions of Pearl as an infant and toddler, nature imagery emphasizes Pearl’s startling beauty and unpredictable, yet innocent, character. Pearl’s beauty and innocence are apparent from the time of her birth. Hawthorne describes Pearl's "innocent life [as] a lovely and immortal flower"(Hawthorne 81). Even though Pearl is a product of the "guilty passion"(81) between Hester and Dimmesdale, both her soul and her body are untainted and flawless. Hester notices that Pearl has no physical defects, but Pearl’s character has an unexplainable aspect of oddity and unpredictability. When she plays near Hester’s cottage, Pearl "[smites] down [and] uproot[s] most unmercifully [the] ugliest weeds"(87) which she pretends are the Puritan children. Hester believes that Pearl is so emotional and temperamental because the passion which Hester
and Dimmesdale experienced during their sinful act somehow transferred into Pearl’s soul. However, Pearl’s antipathy for the Puritans is justified; the children often torment her for no good reason. When Hester and Pearl go into town, the Puritan children stop playing and either surround Pearl and stare at her or prepare to hurl mud at the unfortunate pair. Both actions by the Puritans result in a fit of outrage by Pearl. One reason that the Puritans treat Pearl badly is because of her mother’s sin. The Puritans believe that since Pearl is the product of adultery, she is automatically evil and depraved. The Puritan hatred for Pearl is also due to the fact that she, like Hester’s scarlet letter, is beautiful, and they are in a way jealous of both. Supposedly, Hester’s scarlet ‘A’ is a punishment, but she embroiders it richly and wears it with subtle pride. When the Puritans first see the ‘A’, they want to replace it with an ‘A’ made out of rheumatic cloth. The Puritans look at Pearl in the same way; they do not think Hester deserves such a beautiful child. The Puritans like simple, bland things and shun beauty because it is tempting. This view of the Puritans appears again when the Reverend Mr. Wilson first sees Pearl in Governor Bellingham’s mansion. Mr. Wilson calls her a "little bird of scarlet plumage"(100) and asks her "what has ailed [her] mother to bedizen [her] in this strange fashion"(100). Mr. Wilson first compares Pearl to a bird, something from nature, which the Puritans distrust, then implies that something is wrong with Hester for tastelessly dressing Pearl in such beautiful, striking clothing. In this instance, Mr. Wilson’s comments are hypocritical because Governor Bellingham, the leader of the Puritans, decorates his mansion lavishly and enjoys many worldly pleasures. Hawthorne, who lived in the Romantic period, included this passage to indicate that in his eyes, Pearl
is beautiful and the Puritans are wrong in thinking that Pearl is wicked. When Pearl tells Mr. Wilson that her name is Pearl, he answers ,"’Pearl?-Ruby, rather!- or Coral!-or Red Rose’"(101). Even though Mr. Wilson disapproves of Pearl’s attire, he still acknowledges her beauty by comparing her to beautiful things in nature. At the same, time, he shows his disapproval because he, like most Puritans, distrusts nature. Later on, Mr. Wilson asks Pearl if she knows who made her. She replies by saying that "she had not been made at all but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that [grows] by the prison-door"(103). Pearl’s answer tells the reader that she understands both her physical beauty and her internal wildness because she compares herself to a wild rose. The answer’s creativity and unexpectedness also reveal Pearl’s unusual, whimsical character. At this point in the novel, the reader can already discern Pearl’s fundamental character traits.
As Pearl grows older, her isolation from the Puritans leads her to spend more time with
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