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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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CHAPTER 8: THE ELF-CHILD AND THE MINISTER

We come, in this chapter, to a second contest between Hester Prynne and the magistrates, this time over Pearl. Hester is so strong in her sense of natural right-the right of a mother to her child-that she seems almost a match for these stern and rigorous law makers. Almost.

At the first sight of Pearl, the magistrates gathered in the Governor's hall are taken aback. They don't know what to make of the high-spirited child. In her red velvet tunic, Pearl seems to them like an apparition from another-and an older and gayer-world.

She reminds Wilson of the glowing reflections cast by the stained glass windows of the high Gothic cathedrals in Europe. And she recalls to Bellingham the unruly children of the English court theatricals. (Neither association is flattering. The Puritans in England wrecked the ornate churches and closed down the theatres in the belief that luxuriant art and bawdy drama alike corrupt the soul.)

The old men are kindly to Pearl, but clearly disapproving. When the child fails to recite her catechism properly, they consider the question of Hester's continued custody to be closed. Pearl will be taken from her mother.


NOTE: When Reverend Wilson asks Pearl, "Who made thee?" the child replies that she was plucked by her mother off the wild rosebush that grows by the prison door.

Though Hawthorne suggests a realistic explanation for Pearl's answer (her response was triggered by the red roses in the Governor's garden), he clearly wants us to perceive a kinship between Pearl and a wild thing in nature. Like the rosebush, Pearl is exempt from rules and regulations. She flourishes outside the realm of human law.

Bellingham and Wilson are understandably shocked by Pearl's reply, which shows an apparent lack of religious training. But they are somewhat less shocked than they would be if they could read its full meaning (the full extent, that is, of Pearl's claim to freedom).

In their decision to put Pearl in a proper, God-fearing home, the Governor and Wilson have not reckoned with Hester Prynne. The mother is prepared to fight like a lioness for her cub. Clutching Pearl tightly in her arms, Hester cries out her defiance. They shall not take Pearl from her. She will die first.

Hester's entreaties, however, fall on deaf ears. She turns in desperation to her one possible source of help. She has spied, in Arthur Dimmesdale, a potential ally in the enemy camp.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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