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Symbolism in The Scarlet Letter Research Papers

Symbolism in The Scarlett Letter research papers focus on exactly what the letter represents to the characters in the novel. Have the literature writers from Paper Masters help write your research paper Hawthorne's classic novel.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, depicts the shame of Hester Prynne, who has had a baby named Pearl by the local minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. In Puritanical New England, she was branded an adulteress and subjected to scorn and embarrassment by others in her town. While Hester was, to Hawthorne, a symbol of a woman repressed, Pearl represented something different, which we will examine in this symbolism in The Scarlet Letter research paper.

Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter

Symbol of the Pearl

While her mother endured the taunts of the townspeople and tried as best she could to make a living as a sewer of garments, Pearl had her own ostracism, being taunted and shunned by other children in Puritanical New England. Throughout the novel, Pearl is what we today would call a “rebel,” a “wild child” who was seemingly beyond the reaches of affection. Unlike Hester, who demonstrated a remarkable dignity despite her being humiliated by her peers, Pearl even got the attention of the governor of Boston, who doubted she could ever be any kind of Christian.

When Hester named her baby Pearl, she chose her name because pearls are expensive items and Pearl was all she had. More than that, Pearl had a mind of her own, which led the unnamed narrator of The Scarlet Letter to proclaim, “There was a fire in her, and throughout her; she seemed the unpremeditated offshoot of a passionate moment” (Ch. 7, p. 93).

The Scarlet Letter

So, what is the symbolism of Pearl? Where her mother was humiliated by her brief, but meaningful affair with the Rev. Dimmesdale,  and she tried so hard to be accepted again by the Puritanical society that was New England in the 17th century, Pearl remained a rebel. But was she that, really?

Hester does not see the letter as merely a symbol of her shame; rather, she uses it to her advantage.

  • In Chapter 13, the scarlet letter has come to mean more than “adulteress”. It has taken on new meaning and symbolism, even for the people of the colony:

    Many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said it mean Able; so strong was Hester Prynne with a woman’s strength.
  • The courage Hester used by refusing to sacrifice entirely her dignity and sense of self-worth was augmented by the enforced wearing of the scarlet letter.
  • What the town fathers thought would bring Hester everlasting humiliation became the basis of her personal restructuring and, at the same time, a kind of quiet defiance that eventually won over even the hardened hearts of her neighbors in the town.

Pearl, however, sees her mother’s scarlet letter as something “wrong”, for she tells Hester that the letter drives the sunshine away, “for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!” At the same time, Pearl hopefully asks her mother is the letter will not come off “of its own accord, when I am a woman grown (Ch. 16). Wise beyond her years, Pearl knows she is why Hester must wear the letter, and she feels guilty. Thus, the letter also symbolizes worry on Pearl’s part, as well as a tinge of guilt.

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