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FREE Barron's Booknotes-The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne-Free Notes
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What is happening in this scene? On a narrative level, Pearl is behaving like the petted and spoiled child she is. She is furious to find herself faced with a rival claimant to her mother's affections. She understands that the change in Hester's appearance signals a new state of affairs-one she heartily dislikes. She registers her disapproval by means of a temper tantrum.

On a symbolic level, Pearl is acting out the role of a fierce little nemesis. Her pointing finger is the accusing finger of fate. Pearl's mission in life has always been to remind Hester of the consequences of sin. She will not let her mother escape those consequences now.

Pearl's silent message, as she stands there on the far side of the stream, is that there is no return from experience to innocence. She will not recognize her mother until the scarlet letter is once more in place and Hester's luxuriant hair, that radiant sign of young womanhood, is once more imprisoned beneath the restraining cap.


Do you find something cruel in Pearl, something merciless in her insistence that Hester forego her newfound youth and sensuality? Perhaps Hawthorne does, too. But the cruelty lies not so much in the child as in the situation. Hawthorne believes that there is something final and irrevocable about sin. But he does not necessarily love the Providence that has decreed it so.

Pearl is now willing to greet her mother, but she will have nothing to do with the minister. When Dimmesdale plants a nervous kiss on her forehead, she runs back to the stream to wash it off.

Hester and Dimmesdale draw aside to discuss their plans for the future. But we know now, for we have just been warned: this is a marriage that will never come off.

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