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Sin And Punishment In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

1671 words - 7 pages

In the novel The Scarlet Letter the predominant themes are sin and punishment. The opening scene showed Hester Prynne standing on a scaffold, clutching her baby, and displaying the scarlet letter A on her chest. Hester committed the sin of adultery, and her daughter Pearl is a product of that sin. Pearl is a living, physical representation of the crime that Hester committed. Hawthorne uses Pearl as one of the most essential characters for relaying themes in the novel. In the beginning she symbolizes the sin of her mother, as she grows she represents the honesty that the adults lack, and in the closing scene she symbolizes redemption.
Pearl is first introduced in the novel as the infant Hester is clutching to her breast. Hester wears the scarlet letter and holds the baby, both the punishment for her adultery. Even as an infant Pearl is aware of the scarlet letter that her mother wears. She constantly reaches for it, almost in admiration. Pearl sees the letter as something that is a part of her mother. To her the letter is something that is completely normal, unaware of the fact that it’s the reason they are banished from the town. Pearl says, "It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!...Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?"(126). Pearls fascination concerns Hester because Pearl too is a reason that they are not welcome in the town.
Pearl’s physical appearance and behavior also represents the sin of adultery. By the age of 3 she is described as "a rich and luxuriant beauty; a beauty that shone with deep and vivid tints; a bright complexion, eyes possessing intensity both of depth and glow, and hair already of a deep, glossy brown and which, in after years, would be nearly akin to black." (46). Her beauty symbolizes the passion of the adultery committed by her mother. Adultery is a sin of passion, beauty, and wonder. Pearl embodies all of these aspects in her physical appearance. The attractiveness of her daughter reminds Hester of the attraction she felt for Dimmsdale and the beauty of the relationship that they had together. Pearl’s behavior was very wild and unique to a child of her age. According to the novel her behavior "lacked reference and adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could not be made amenable to rules." (41). This wild behavior represents the fact that Hester and Dimmsdale broke Puritan law. Those in a Puritan society value order and those who follow the rules. Pearl is defiant in the same way that her mother defied the Puritans.
Pearl is also a constant reminder to Hester of the bond that she and Dimmsdale shared. Every day that she sees Pearl, she sees her love affair with Dimmsdale. "A face, fiend-like, full of smiling malice, yet bearing the semblance of features that she had known full well, though seldom with a smile, and never with malice in them." (44). She sees the passion and also the evil nature of that passion that she has for Dimmsdale...

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