Notes to Ch 6, Pearl
The Scarlet Letter

that little creature, whose innocent life sl06.html#g01
This chapter describes Pearl in detail. She is at this time an infant, but by the end of the chapter she talks. She is a "creature," that is to say she has been created (it does not mean that she is an animal). Her innocence as a baby is contrasted to the "rank luxuriance of a guilty passion," which as lived by Hester was the cause of her creation. (However, the Puritans believed in original sin and so babies could not be said to be innocent of that sin.) Some of the details of childrearing no doubt reflect Hawthorne's own perspective from the Victorian period rather than the Puritan, as it is clear that much of the description is drawn from his notes on his own daughter, Una, who was six years old at the time of the writing of this book.
a lovely and immortal flower sl06.html#g01
The author uses metaphors of flowers throughout. Not only is a flower beautiful, but it is mortal, it dies, just as beauty fades.
sunshine sl06.html#g01
Again, sunshine is a metaphor, but this time it is the light that a sharp mind sends out to illuminate the world.
Pearl of great price sl06.html#g01
Reference to the Bible, Matt 13:45-46. The story is of a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it. So is the kingdom of heaven like that.
letter sl06.html#g01
The author contrasts the two significant characters on Hester's bosom: the beautiful child Pearl, and the scarlet letter. The first might draw Hester closer to society, just as the second repels society.
result sl06.html#g01
Since she had committed a sin, Hester was afraid that the product of the sin, the child Pearl, might also be sinful or bad.
guiltiness sl06.html#g01
It seems to exaggerate to say that Hester owed her whole being to her guiltiness. However, at this point her guilt had taken over her life and wearing the scarlet letter dominated her identity. (Her life had been spared because her husband was missing at sea, but a condition of that sentence was that she wear the letter for the rest of her life.) She looks to the child for some correspondence, and of course those who look shall find. Since there seemed no logical reason for the chance similarity, the suspicion of supernatural power of course arises. Hester was alone here, adrift in emotional thinking. Apparently the Puritans had no childcare classes.
Eden sl06.html#g02
In Eden, of course, the child would have had no original sin. But the author goes further, in pointing out that Pearl was not guilty of the sin of adultery that her parents committed. The reference also reminds us of the theme of the Garden of Eden that has persisted in recent chapters. While Eve presumably was graceful and beautiful enough to be a sex symbol, it is only implicitly that Hester is so, while Pearl is explicitly so described. Perhaps we can remember Hawthorne's fatherless childhood and imagine that he would have liked to let everyone know that he was not guilty of his father's death, and he too was considered graceful and beautiful as a child--at least by his mother.
existence sl06.html#g03
Nevertheless, Pearl's beauty has to be strange, because her very existence is not congruent with the truth. Her strange behavior conflicts with her physical appearance, which also is odd. The speculation that there must be a disorder or strange order to her physical parts suggests a theory that sin could be read on a person's face or by certain physical abnormalities, such as the extra nipples that witches were supposed by the Puritans to require to feed their familiars (little imps or devils or animals). Hawthorne does seem to be going far, though, since every father must look into his daughter's face and wonder about her future (while no doubt checking to make sure he really is the father).
Scriptural authority sl06.html#g04
("Spare the rod and spoil the child" is a reference to the Bible, Proverbs 13:24). Of course, Hawthorne is referring here to what he perceived as the change in childhood education in his time, not in ours as compared to the Puritans. Hawthorne is reminding us that the Puritans considered children to be infected with original sin. (And no doubt as a father himself, and as one who early lost his own father, he ascribes Pearl's misbehavior to her lack of a father or Father.) The Romantic writer Rousseau in his works such as Emile had a great effect in encouraging kinder treatment of children, and Hawthorne's sister-in-law Elizabeth Palmer Peabody started kindergartens in the United States, though Hawthorne's own children were mostly taught at home. Henry David Thoreau as a schoolteacher in Concord quit after using the rod, so the reduction in what would today be considered child abuse was not perhaps as significant as indicated here, but was still ongoing. For a more balanced, modern view of Puritan child upbringing that suggests it was not so different from today's life, see A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony, by John Demos, paperback (June 1971), Oxford Univ Press; ISBN: 0195013557. (Demos makes the point, however, that Plymouth children by age 6 or 7 would be treated as adults, while Hawthorne doesn't seem to recognize that this would have been true of Pearl at the same time in the story. Many critics have noted that Hawthorne's description of Pearl seems to be based on his own observations of his first daughter, Una, born in 1844.) In general, Hawthorne's depiction of stern Puritans in this novel seems to have prevailed until Harvard professor Perry Miller reversed it in the 1930s. It may be that the 1995 Hollywood movie of this book, along with the attention paid to the witchcraft trials because of political reasons, has slanted the bias against Puritans backwards, even harsher than Hawthorne's, but only because of our current social preoccupations, not because of better historical evidence.
infant immortality sl06.html#g04
Puritan parents not only had to be parents of the living child, but also guardians of their immortal souls and bring them up so they would voluntarily accept Christ and join the church.
infantile sl06.html#g06
That is, among the other small children (Pearl by this paragraph is apparently older than an infant). It is not clear whether Pearl has been christened or why not--the next chapter does not make that clear, but we can assume that the ministers would have brought it up if not. If so, then Hawthorne is only pointing out that Pearl is not accepted by the other Christian children the way their religion is supposed to teach.
imp sl06.html#g06
"Imp" also seems to exaggerate. Her appearance is not that of an evil animal--it would only be that she is able to transform her face into an angry, threatening one when she wishes to chase away her tormentors. And the other behavior described of Pearl's playing alone might seem strange to an adult, who has forgotten his own imaginative play-acting, and here is described as strange mainly to reflect Hester's thinking and to suggest other interpretations to follow. One that is obvious is that in play Pearl attempts to dominate others that she cannot do in real life.
scourging Quakers sl06.html#g06
Since the Quakers had not entered New England by this time, it seems anachronous to suggest this play, but Hawthorne as usual rearranges history for his literary effects.
scalps sl06.html#g06
Also, it would be wrong to blame the Puritans for initiating the practice of cutting off the scalps or hair of war victims. Later, they did use scalps as a way of proving they had killed Indians, in order to claim a reward. But Native American warfare was ritualized in ways that the Puritans did not comprehend--in order to avoid having to kill the other side, they sometimes agreed that simply touching ("coup") would count as defeating the enemy, for example. In any case, this play is by boys and so girls such as Pearl would not look with favor on it.
the northern lights sl06.html#g08
Northern lights are the aurora borealis, large and fast-moving colors in the night sky seen mostly in polar regions but sometimes in New England. Now we know they are natural electrical effects in the atmosphere generated by solar flares, but at the time they were mysterious and supernatural. The metaphor anticipates the scaffold scene to come.
sowing broadcast the dragon's teeth sl06.html#g08
Greek myth of Cadmus. See "The Dragon's Teeth" in Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales of 1853.
contest sl06.html#g08
Hester is thinking of how difficult it will be for Pearl to make her own way in life, given her inauspicious start.
dropped her work sl06.html#g08
Dropping her needlework is an obvious metaphor for worry interrupting her everyday life.
fancied that she saw another face sl06.html#g11
Of course, this is specifically labeled "fancy." Even if not, the author seems to give a strange credence to Hester's crazy belief that a fiend's face, not her own, was reflected there. Some of this must come from Hester instead of being attributed to Pearl's powers.
elfish or elvish?..... sl06.html#g11, sl06.html#g24
We follow the various spellings in the first edition, but the authoritative Centenary Edition [Ce0162] regularizes all to the spelling "elfish". Note that if Pearl did not have a heavenly Father then perhaps her father was the Devil. Looking closely at her face would be one way to try to find out who the father really was. Another way would be to practice, to ask the child and to tell the child--but this is not easy for Hester.
Luther sl06.html#g11
The Puritans were not Protestants after the first rebel from Catholicism, Martin Luther, but followers of Calvin of Geneva.

Summary. Pearl deserves her own chapter after Chillingworth and Hester. She is described rapidly from infancy to perhaps seven years old. Pearl's dress and behavior are odd, perhaps because of her isolated upbringing, and perhaps in reaction to the cruel persecutions of other children. Hester sees some possibility of supernatural causes--maybe her father is the Devil.


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Eldred, Eric. Notes to Ch. 6, The Scarlet Letter. 1999. 23 Sep. 1999.


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