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Scarlet Letter


Often throughout The Scarlet Letter there are symbolic references made.
The story deals with a Puritan woman who commits adultery and raises an
illegitimate child named Pearl. The author, Nathanial Hawthorne, seems
to be rather fond of using religious and natural images to symbolize
different points, possibly because of his own Puritan background. One
of the purposes of this symbolism is to show that Puritanism is
hypocritical and that their religious viewpoints are against the
natural order, which is done by using contrasting natural and religious
symbols in the descriptions of Pearl.
First, Hawthorne uses the backdrop of the natural world to show
not only that Pearl is anonymous to the Puritan culture, but
also above it. This is done by using positive natural images
and metaphors to the natural world. Describing Pearl as a
"...lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a
guilty passion" (pg. 81), begins this image. This "rank
luxuriance" is based on the strict Puritan morals. It describes
the child as a mistake or an outcast even though the birth of a
child is supposed to be a wonderful thing. Pearl also has a
sort of love and disposition uncommon of other Puritan children
illustrated by the statement: "...Hester could not help
questioning, at such moments, whether Pearl were a human child.
she seemed rather an airy sprite..." (pg. 84). Her mother,
being of a Puritan background, seems to disturb her that Pearl
acts so free spirited. The best example of the difference of
Pearl in a positive way is a direct statement about Puritan
children: "...Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden
were their children..." (pg. 87). By describing the other
puritan children as weeds, Hawthorne symbolizes the paths that
their lives will take. Weeds will grow up big but will never be
as beautiful as a flower and often tries to smother flowers and
kill them off. The religious descriptions of Pearl are often
used to show the Puritan ideals of the fact that the mother
committed adultery. Even though the child can not help that she
has been labeled as an outcast the rest of her life
indefinitely. Cited conscientiously, "Pearl was a born outcast
of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of
sin, she had no right among Christian infants." (pg. 86). These
people which are supposed to be Christian and love their
neighbors are being total hypocrites by despising a child just
because they believe that it was erected by the process of a
sinful act. Even her simple childhood temper tantrums are
described as being evil; "...with shrill, incoherent
exclamations, that made her mother tremble because they had so
much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some unknown tongue."
(pg. 86). Hawthorne uses the witch connotation to give it more
image as to what exactly it was that the Puritans feared the
most. Even Pearl's own mother, an outcast herself, is
frightened by these temper tantrums. Throughout the book there
are examples of when Pearl has almost some kind of supernatural
ability to see things the way that they really are. A child
these young with these gifts of perception would definitely
have been viewed evil in Puritan society. It was assumed to be
some type of witchcraft. This is even more obvious with the
observations that she makes. When Pearl questions her mother as
to where she came from, the response typically was "the
Heavenly Father." Pearl then proceeds to point at Hester's
scarlet letter and replies that she did not come from the
heavenly father. This statement at such a young age reflects
that not only does she recognize herself as an evil outcast
from the Christians but also somewhat of a heretical
statement. These two different conflicting groups of symbols
are more than likely nothing more than a resentment of
Hawthorn's Puritan upbringing, but do say a lot about Puritan
society. This contrast of two almost opposite worlds show a
great deal of hypocrisy among the Puritans. The natural world
symbols show Pearl as a normal good-hearted child, while the
religious symbols show her as not only a horrible mistake, but
as a child that almost teeters on the brink of being possessed
or demonic in some way. The most important part is that it is
the reader's own opinion as to who is correct.


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