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The Scarlet Letter – Manipulation of Pearl As Plot Device and Symbol

A distinguished novel applies numerous literary devices to magnify and enhance the protagonist of the work. By amplifying the environment that surrounds the character, the author creates for himself a sphere of options concerning character development, situational responses, and peer interaction: he is allowed complete 360 degree control of the modified character, and can compose a well-developed, attractive personage.

Hawthorne manipulates one of the more popular techniques of this literary device in his novel The Scarlet Letter by applying secondary characters who comment on the internal forces that rage within the protagonist of the novel – Hester Prynne. Perhaps the most influential of which is her very daughter – a symbol in herself of Hester’s mortal sin who is also capable of providing valuable insight to the reader about Hester’s internal pain and anguish. As we read through the work, we learn that as Pearl develops so too does the levels of intricacy and pain of Hester Prynne’s sin.

Hawthorne first reveals the significance of Pearl when he introduces Hester during her public shaming. The horrified women of the town scold and humiliate her for the entire world to see – the proof lying in that growing mass in her stomach. The issue is that in reality all Puritans were victim to sin occasionally; Hester was simply one of the few who carried the proof on her – to live her repentance. Alternatively, the rest of the Puritan society would hide their sins from the light of day: preferring the drag them to judgment day rather than unveil them before the scrutinizing community. In this way, pearl acts as one of the many representational symbols she portrays throughout the book. Her very existence acts as a possible salvation that Hester may achieve. Merely being around for the community to see serves as a beginning for the heavy amount of penance she will have to endure to her death.

Later in the book, after Pearl’s arrival to the world, we begin to see the stark differences between a child who is raised in a traditional puritan society and a child developing in an environment of freedom; cut off from the rest of the world with minimum human interaction. While other Puritan children were rising like yeast in the confines of a pan, crafted to fit the mold of the creator, Pearl was unfolding to the world like a sunflower opening to the sun. Pure radiance and individuality finding its way not by virtue of strict word and harsh whip, but by the burning passion that lies within her heart. However, this lack of human contact did hurt Pearl in other ways.

Her withdrawal from society left her stripped of the ability to interact humanely with traditional Puritans. It also constructed a sturdy dependence on her mother, who, as much as she tortured, was the only true source of comfort in the world. We see this when Pearl and Hester travel to town one day to deliver a pair of gloves to the Governor. When a group of children threw sticks and mud at the two, Pearl erupted in a fit of rage – throwing rocks, kicking, and screaming at all of the children with no regard to any possible repercussions. Today, psychologist would agree that the lack of diversity in the people Pearl interacted with at a young age was dangerous to the proper development of her personality.

Hester also unloads her guilt for her sins on Pearl. She understands that as a result of her own actions, Pearl would have to work very hard to achieve any sort of a normal life in traditional Puritan society. There are doubts in Hester’s mind that her adulterous ways would break the synonymous relationship with Pearl. To quell her guilt to some degree, Hester dresses Pearl in the finest materials available and herself in rough gray fabric. This stark contrast acted as a way of distancing herself from Pearl as much as she could in any way the Puritan community could interpret as negative.

A secondary way Hester tries to clean herself of her guilt is the way she actually raises and treats Pearl. The hands off approach she applies is a result of a combination of an inability to raise a child alone, her need to never hurt Pearl in any way, and her incompetence in the ways of traditional Puritan discipline. The results are not all positive. Pearl turns out to be almost impossible to control in important situations, and is too independent to attach herself to her mother’s sadness. Hester creates for herself a precarious situation: her child is very free and loving, but is nearly impossible to control. All things aside, however, Hester does manage to provide one valuable service to Pearl: allowing her to develop on her own path rather than on the strict steel ties of traditional Puritan tracks.

Pearl is important in the novel because she acts as a deep character, full of contrast and device, various symbols – most importantly a physical manifestation of Hester’s sin, and a light in Hester’s dark existence. The product of a fatal sin in a strict religion-based community, Pearl develops in a curious way, and the reasons to her actions can only be speculated about. Hawthorne explores this unique situation and exploits it for its rich veins of contrast and plot line commentary.

Source by Howard Hehrer

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