The Rhetorical Strategies of the Scarlett Letter

In the novel The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne depicts the hardships of a young girl named Hester forced to live with the letter A pinned to her chest in penitence for her sins in a strict Puritan town in the 1800s. The illegitimate daughter of Hester carries the same traits and qualities as Hester, making Pearl a double of Hester. Hawthorne defines Pearl with his use of abstract diction, whimsical tone, and his selection of detail.

Pearl’s character functions primarily as a symbolic character that stands for her mother and the scarlet letter. Pearl becomes the Scarlet Letter brought to life. She is dressed in elaborate, scarlet garb as if to be a real-life scarlet letter. The narrator explains her as “the scarlet letter in another form: the scarlet letter endowed with life! ”(Hawthorne 57). When Hester tries to discard the letter, she gets in a panic mode, as if Hester is actually discarding her. The author never really states the purpose of Pearl being the scarlet letter, but instead uses abstract ideas and prodigious vocabulary.

Many people in the Puritan community believe that since Hester would not reveal the child’s father, that he must be the devil himself. Pearl has an uncanny perception of what goes on around her and constantly is seeking for the truth. The connection of Pearl to the letter and her constant obsession with finding truth leads us to believe that the letter means truth. Her excessively perceptive knowledge is almost supernatural. Hawthorne’s tone is one of a whimsical, mischievous, and capricious descriptions. Pearl’s main purpose seems to be to uncover the truth for the main characters.

Once she completes her goal, “A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a party, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father’s cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl’s errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled”(233). Her capricious emotions and the fickle opinions of the author make it hard for the reader to decipher if the child is the evil embodiment of Hester’s sin or just the naivety and curiosity of a child.

Overall, there are some striking similarities between Hester and Pearl. Even during Hester’s pregnancy, she could feel Pearl’s “wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart” (50). These emotions correlate with Hester. Her wild, desperate and defiant mood is emulated through her betrayal of the puritans through her sin. Her temper, gloom, and despondency is felt from Hester because of her forced isolation from the rest of the town and marked as an outcast. Pearl is described as beautiful, imaginative, graceful, and impulsive.

These traits are also seen in Hester. Pearl is a character of mystery and has an almost supernatural essence to her. The author talks about her like she is more than human although we never know if she heaven-sent or from the devil because the author plays both sides of the argument. Pearl is a symbol of the passion that is within every human heart, and as the story ends with her finding great success in Europe, she shows us that society should never define you.

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