The Scarlet Letter is a book of much symbolism. One of the most complex and misunderstood symbols in the book is Pearl, the daughter of Hester Prynne. Pearl, throughout the story, develops into a dynamic symbol- one that is always changing. As the novel progresses, Pearl grows older, and it’s easy for the reader to want to explore some of the symbolism which Pearl comes to represent throughout the novel.
In the Scarlet Letter, Hester, for her sins, received a scarlet “A” which she had to wear upon her chest. This was the Puritan way of treating her as a criminal, for the crime of adultery. The Puritan treatment continued, because as Hester would walk down the streets, she would be looked down upon as if she was a demon from Hell, and she would be called names.
This would cause her much mental anguish and grief. On the other hand, God’s way of punishing Hester for her sin was quite different from the physical token she wore: he gave her the punishment of a very unique child who she named Pearl. This punishment from God was a constant reminder to Hester of what she had done wrong, and she could not escape from her daughter as she did society. In this aspect, Pearl symbolized God’s way of punishing Hester for adultery.
The way Hester’s life was ruined for so long was the ultimate price that Hester paid for Pearl. With Pearl, Hester’s life was almost never filled with joy, but instead a constant nagging. Pearl would harass her mother over the scarlet “A” which she had to wear constantly. And, Pearl would also make her own “A” to wear, and sometimes played games with her mother’s, trying to hit it with rocks, or decorating it with prickly burrs.
When Hester would go into town with Pearl, the other children would make fun of her, and Pearl would yell back and throw dirt at them, So, in this case, Pearl symbolized the decimation of Hester’s social life and mental state.
Although Hester had so much trouble with Pearl, she still felt that Pearl was her treasure. Pearl was really the only thing that Hester had in life, and if Pearl wasn’t in Hester’s life, Hester would almost surely have committed suicide. Hester proved this when she replies to the governor’s sister about an invitation to the witches meeting in the woods, “… Had they taken her away from me (Pearl), I would have willingly gone with thee into the forest, and signed my name in the Black Man’s book too, and that with mine own blood!”
So, it’s obvious that Pearl was Hester’s main reason to stay living. Once in a while, Pearl would bring joy to Heaters life, and that helped her to keep on living. Pearl really symbolized a rose to her mother, but at other times she could be wilting. It was these times when she was “wilting” that brought Hester more grief. One final way Pearl symbolized something in the novel was her association with the scarlet letter.
Pearl really was the ultimate scarlet letter, because if Pearl had never been born, Hester would have never been found guilty of adultery, and thus never would have never had to wear that tangible burden upon her chest. Without burden, Hester would have led a much better life than the one she had throughout the novel. In many different ways, throughout the entire novel, Pearl was a source of many different kinds of symbolism and in a way, foreshadowing.
From being a rose, like the gate of the jail, to representing the scarlet letter “A” she was kind of a burden, yet the love for Hester. And as a final note, Pearl was more than her mother’s only source or key, to survival and sanity.