Term Paper: Strength of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Pages: 5 (1458 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Children  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] And beneath, in the mirror of the brook, there was the flower-girdled and sunny image of little Pearl, pointing her small forefinger too.

This child in the water, we realize, is in many ways the Pearl that Hester dreamed of when she named this child after the jewel of purity. She can be found in the water, where of course true pearls are indeed found. This child too stretches out her hand toward her mother, but we imagine that the gesture in this case is not one of censure but recognition and connection. This small child stamping her foot is not some terrible, perhaps even demonic force, but merely a child misbehaving, as small children do.

Pearl still pointed with her forefinger; and a frown gathered on her brow; the more impressive from the childish, the almost baby-like aspect of the features that conveyed it. As her mother still kept beckoning to her, and arraying her face in a holiday suit of unaccustomed smiles, the child stamped her foot with a yet more imperious look and gesture. In the brook, again, was the fantastic beauty of the image, with its reflected frown, its pointed finger, and imperious gesture, giving emphasis to the aspect of little Pearl.

Hester despairs of making the child come to talk with her father, and so she again dons her scarlet letter, and as she does so she shrinks back into the shadow of herself that she has become. She ceases to be a child herself of the natural world, her language becomes more formal and less joyous. She becomes the woman that the clergy believe her to be: Her language is no longer full of poetry, no longer natural in its diction, but stilted. She is reduced to the letter upon her breast, even though a few minutes before she had regained herself.

This reversion of Hester to a woman who has been made to hate herself is the heart of Hawthorne's condemnation of Puritan morality and the reason that it is Chillingsworth and not Hester or Arthur who is the true villain of this book. Hawthorne's depiction of the world of American Puritan cities like this one is a challenge to the rights of the Puritan clergy to claim for themselves the authority to define people's sense of self-worth.

Hawthorne is not here challengingly the reality of sin, for his depiction throughout the book of Pearl suggests that he does indeed believe that there are lifetime consequences to sinning. Even the innocent - for Pearl is that epitome of innocence, the child born into a situation that she has no control over and yet who every day has the sins of her parents visited upon her.

It is hardly surprising that Pearl takes what revenge she can, as when she takes this chance to remind her mother of her sin:

In a mood of tenderness that was not usual with her, she drew down her mother's head, and kissed her brow and both her cheeks. But then -- by a kind of necessity that always impelled this child to alloy whatever comfort she might chance to give with a throb of anguish -- Pearl put up her mouth, and kissed the scarlet letter, too!

One of the major themes of the book is that even the innocent are punished in a Puritan world. Indeed, Hawthorne at times suggests that the innocent suffer more than the guilty.

The ending of the book suggests that Hawthorne, in rejecting in many ways his Puritan past, believes that the innocent can be redeemed and even those who have sinned can find redemption through years of virtuous living and a sincere admission of repentance. After this scene in the dell, the three return to the world of Puritan morals with a plan to escape to a life of happiness - although not one of conventional morality. But their attempts at escape from the consequence of their past are thwarted by Chillingsworth who, like Pearl, is determined to point the finger of guilt at Hester and Arthur.

But in the end, even if Hester and Arthur are lost, Pearl is redeemed. The twin images of the child - the one possessed by a society's anger and the other an innocent elf - come together into a single whole,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Strength of Nathaniel Hawthorne."  Essaytown.com.  October 4, 2002.  Accessed July 22, 2019.