The Scarlet Letter Essay, Research Paper
Pearl: A product of Nature
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Pearl is one of the most interesting and mysterious characters of the novel The Scarlet Letter. One tends to wonder why Pearl is the way she is. Why does she act so strangely and so differently than all the other characters? She acts this way because of a relationship she has with the force of Nature, which Hawthorne personifies as sympathetic towards sins against the puritan way of life. Because of this trait Hester’s sin causes Nature to accept Pearl. Finally, Pearl’s acceptance of Nature is what causes her to act the way she does.
First it is necessary to examine how nature is identified with sin against the Puritan way of life. The first example of this is found in the first chapter regarding the rosebush at the prison door. This rosebush is located “on one side of the portal, and rooted almost at the threshold”(36) of the prison. The prison naturally is the place where people that have sinned against the puritan way of life remain. Then Hawthorne suggests that the roses of the rose-bush “might be imagined to offer their fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner as he went in, and to the condemned criminal as he came forth to his doom, in token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him”(36). This clearly states that Nature is kind to prisoners and criminals that pass through the prison doors. Hawthorne strengthens this point by suggesting two possible reasons for the rosebush’s genesis. The first is that “it had merely survived out of the stern old wilderness…”(36), while the second reason is that “there is fair authority for believing [the rose-bush] had sprung up under the footsteps of the sainted Ann Hutchinson…”(36). By Hawthorne’s wording it appears as if he is emphasizing the second reason because he suggests there is “fair authority.” Connecting the rosebush originating from Ann Hutchinson, an outcast from puritan society, shows the connection with Nature and sin against puritan way of life. This rosebush symbolizes the sympathy of Nature towards the very people Puritan society has condemned.
The idea illustrated by the rosebush can therefore be applied to the specific character of Pearl. Because Pearl was expelled from Puritan society Nature sympathizes with her. Nature’s sympathy and partiality with Pearl can be seen with the sunshine in the forest. Pearl attempts to “catch” the sunshine and according to Hawthorn “Pearl . . . did actually catch the sunshine . . . The light lingered about the lonely child, as if glad of such a playmate . . .”(146). Hawthorn describes another sign of acceptance as the “great black forest . . . became the playmate of the lonely infant”(163). Hawthorne eventually declares that “The truth seems to be . . . that the mother-forest, and these wild things which it nourished, all recognized a kindred wildness in the human child”(163). All natural things and Nature accept this little girl who has been thrust out of Puritan society.
A way to strengthen this point is to show Nature’s reaction to Hester. The strange thing is that the sunshine runs from Hester even though it was her sin against the Puritan laws that produced Pearl who is accepted by the sunshine or Nature. In fact “[the sunshine] runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on [Hester's] bosom” (146), the Scarlet Letter, which represents Hester’s acceptance of Puritan law and way of life. Therefore her sin doesn’t invite the sympathy of Nature. This is why when she throws the letter on the ground “forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest . . .”(162). Only then did Nature show its acceptance by flooding the forest with sunshine.
The sympathy that Nature extends to Pearl is what makes her so different. Pearl has two personalities, one being that which belongs to Puritan life, the other being that of the wild “elf-child” of the forest. For her entire life she has been ostracized from Puritan society so she has no choice but to accept her “kindred wildness” that Nature accepts in her. This is the key to why Pearl is such an odd child and why she acts so differently because she knows not the ways of man and Puritan society. She was born an “outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants”(71). She takes on the characteristics of Nature because Nature accepts her as one of its own. Nature, “that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never subjugated by human law, nor illumined by higher truth”(162), is what Pearl is an image of. Pearl’s character “lacked reference, and adaptation to the world into which she was born. The child could not be made amenable to rules”(69). These two quotes show a striking resemblance in description. In both cases Nature and Pearl are referred to as not adapting to Puritan society and not following its ways. This is the characteristic that makes Pearl so different because she is unaffected by the ways of man, and is a product of Nature and its ways. If Pearl is a product of Nature, then her wildness is understandable for the wildness Pearl obtained from Nature is the very thing that causes alarm to all.
Pearl is so wild and lawless as a child because she is a product of the wild and lawless force of Nature. Pearl has a very unique situation that throws her out of Puritan society and into the open arms of Nature. Through this situation Nature helps Pearl to look into herself and allow the “kindred wildness” in her to dominate her actions. She is compared to a “creature that had nothing in common with a bygone and buried generation, nor owned herself akin to it.” Because of this little girl’s banishment from Puritan society she was thrown to another way of life and her wildness and peculiarity is a direct product of her banishment.
The Scarlet Letter-Nethanial Hawthorn