Literary Analysis: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Age Recommended: 15 and up

I read this book for my English class a few months ago and found the messages of the author to be very insightful. The book was also an engaging way to learn about the Puritan culture in the early history of the United States and helped answer one of our essential questions for our AP United States History class: Were the Puritans Puritanical?

Here is my literary analysis for the book!

Pearl As A Moral Compass in The Scarlet Letter

Throughout the book, Pearl is seen as a sort of figure that disrupts Hester’s life. She is always shown as bothering Hester or being difficult in the typical ways that children are expected to be. However, nearing the end of the book, Pearl’s behavior becomes increasingly more erratic. It is often assumed that this is because of the increasing number of interactions between Hester and Reverend Dimmesdale, but I assert that Pearl is actually acting as Hester’s moral compass and is becoming more erratic to attract Hester’s attention to her own wrongdoings.

The first instance in which this occurs is on page 207, when Hester casts her scarlet letter off and Pearl throws a tantrum until she puts it back on. Pearl, in this scene, is often viewed as a sort of hindrance to progress, where she wants to avoid the change her mother is bringing during her interactions with Reverend Dimmesdale. We see how when Hester removes the letter, “forth burst the sunshine, pouring a very flood into the obscure forest (199)”, but when she has to put it back on, “departed, like fading sunshine; and a gray shadow seemed to fall across her (207).”

This change could be viewed as the scarlet letter being a symbol of freedom and how Pearl is taking that away from her mother and forcing her to revert to old ideals, but it seems unlikely as Pearl was originally her mother’s ticket to freedom, in that she no longer had to confine to society’s norms. It would make more sense that Pearl is reprimanding her mother for trying to undermine the rules of society and the Puritan values that they stand for.

This kind of logic comes into play once more on pages 235 and 236 while she and Hester are watching the procession (parade) go by. Dimmesdale is suddenly standing tall (“his frame was not bent (235)”) and “nor did his hand rest ominously upon his heart. (207)” At this moment in time, Hester feels a “dreary influence” come over her and realizes that Dimmesdale is much too detached from the real world. Pearl immediately senses that something is wrong and attempts to catch her mother’s attention. Hester, however, shushes her and continues to watch Dimmesdale.

We can see again that Pearl is correct in attempting to gain her mother’s attention because right before Dimmesdale calls them up to stand with him, we see that “the glow … seemed extinguished … hardly the face of a man alive (246)”, which shows us that something bad is about to happen once more. When Dimmesdale calls Hester and Pearl up to him for the last time, we see that Pearl’s demeanor is finally more positive. She runs up to Dimmesdale and embraces him, giving him a kiss before he dies. This is representative of Pearl’s “stamp of approval” for Dimmesdale’s actions which he has finally gained by not clearly defying society’s norms, but by coming clean and choosing to make a path of his own.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: The Scarlet Letter

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