The Scarlet Letter offers a powerful account of the misery inflicted by women in patriarchal and bigoted Puritanical society of early New England. The protagonist, Hester Prynne, and her child, Pearl, are ostracized by their society for their alleged ‘sinfulness’. However, it is frequently noted that Pearl herself is not an image of actual character but a deeper allegory of the defiant and rebellious human nature opposing itself to the forced conformity of its social environment.
This point of view might be supported by certain character descriptions and metaphors included in the novel. Hawthorne often alludes to the “elfish” or “sprite-like” qualities of the young child that was “always in a state of preternatural activity” (76-77), which would often disturb Hester herself. The relentless resolve demonstrated by Pearl in attacking her Puritanical peers among the local children show the alienation, coupled with the feeling of freedom, was her most distinguishing feature in dealing with the society around her.
Hester is described as despairing at the scenes of “enmity and passion” that Pearl displayed in her communicating with other children (75). Yet the mother understood that this lack of attachment, and even hostility, to the Puritanical society was the legacy of her own hidden rebelliousness, branded as ‘sin’ by Puritanical authorities.
Similarly, the creativity and flimsiness of tempers inherent in Pearl’s character may be construed as expressions of existential contradictions to conservative and traditional mores that were cultivated in Puritanical society. Together with the supposed “outlandish” and “demonic” overtones in Pearl’s attitude, they demonstrate the unending conflict between the pristine wilderness and hypocritical civilization dramatized by Hawthorne in his novel.
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