The Scarlet Letter

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The illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. Pearl serves as a symbol of her mother's shame and triumph. At one point the narrator describes Pearl as "the scarlet letter endowed with life." Like the letter, Pearl is the public consequence of Hester's very private sin. Yet also like the scarlet letter, Pearl becomes Hester's source of strength. Pearl defines Hester's identity and purpose and gives Hester a companion to love. Although she often struggles to understand Pearl's rebelliousness and devilish spirit, Hester never wavers in her loving devotion to Pearl. Pearl, an outcast, is drawn to other outcasts, such as Mistress Hibbins and her witch friends. Pearl's affinity for the occult associates her character with sin and evil, but Pearl is first and foremost a product of love, not just sin. Her rumored happiness and success as an adult in Europe make her character a symbol of the triumph of love over a repressed and oppressive society.

Pearl Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

The The Scarlet Letter quotes below are all either spoken by Pearl or refer to Pearl. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sin Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Scarlet Letter published in 2015.
Chapter 4 Quotes
As he spoke, he laid his long forefinger on the scarlet letter, which forwith seemed to scortch into Hester’s breast, as if it had been red-hot. He noticed her involuntary gesture, and smiled. “Live, therefore, and bear about thy doom with thee, in the eyes of men and women—in the eyes of him thou didst call thy husband—in the eyes of yonder child! And, that thou mayst live, take off this draught.”
Related Characters: Roger Chillingworth (speaker), Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Red and Black
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

When Hester returns to the prison after this public scene, she is in a state of such agitation that the jailer brings in a man who seems to be a physician. This "physician" knows Hester, however; he is the man who held his finger to his lips, silently asking Hester to not reveal his identity. He gives Hester a medicinal drink ("draught") to ease her distress, but Hester doubts his motives, even questioning if he seeks to murder her for vengeance. His response is chilling; with "cold composure," he comments that Hester's life of shame would be a better form of revenge than death. He then lays his finger on her scarlet letter, instead of on his lips (as he did earlier). A supernatural, strange occurrence follows this man's description of Hester's "burning shame": Hester's breast burns where his finger touched her. This suggests that the strange man will almost personify evil in the novel, despite his familiarity with medicinal knowledge and healing. It is telling that he only reveals his identity as Hester's perhaps former husband (as "him thou didst call thy husband") after he reveals his nefarious nature. 

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Chapter 5 Quotes
Thus the young and pure would be taught to look at her, with the scarlet letter flaming on her breast,—at her, the child of honorable parents,—at her, the mother of a babe, that would hereafter be a woman, —at her, who had once been innocent, —as the figure, the body, the reality of sin.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

Once Hester's confinement in prison ends, she no longer has any future changes to which she can look forward. As she emerges from the prison, she must confront the rest of her life. Her community will always remember that she conceived a child out of wedlock. Educators -- parents, preachers, and teachers -- will use Hester as a "symbol" ("the figure, the body, the reality") of moral transgression, depraved desire, and female weakness. When Hester stays in this town, she will be "giving up her individuality." Yet, she will stay; there is a feeling of inevitability following her shame that the narrator captures through the future tense of these descriptions ("Thus the young and pure would be taught...).

Chapter 7 Quotes
Little Pearl—who was as greatly pleased with the gleaming armour as she had been with the glittering frontispiece of the house—spent some time looking into the polished mirror of the breastplate.

"Mother," cried she, "I see you here. Look! Look!"

Hester looked, by way of humoring the child; and she saw that, owing to the peculiar effect of this convex mirror, the scarlet letter was represented in exaggerated and gigantic proportions, so as to be greatly the most prominent feature of her appearance. In truth, she seemed absolutely hidden behind it. Pearl pointed upward, also, at a similar picture in the head-piece; smiling at her mother, with the elfish intelligence that was so familiar an expression on her small physiognomy. That look of naughty merriment was likewise reflected in the mirror, with so much breadth and intensity of effect, that it made Hester Prynne feel as if it could not be the image of her own child, but of an imp who was seeking to mould itself into Pearl's shape.

"Come along, Pearl!" said she, drawing her away, "Come and look into this fair garden. It may be, we shall see flowers there; more beautiful ones than we find in the woods."
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter, Pearl
Page Number: 98-99
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester and Pearl walk in Governor Bellingham's mansion, their adventures proceed as expected; Pearl acts like an "imp," who refuses to behave properly out of strange delight with her surroundings. She also becomes preoccupied with the way that the decorations (in this case, the reflection in a convex mirror) in this site of Puritan authority visually and metaphorically exaggerate the scarlet letter on Hester's chest, as well as Pearl's own otherworldliness. In response to Pearl, Hester suggests that they go to the governor's garden, to see flowers "more beautiful" than flowers in the woods -- flowers which are superior to the ones Hester and Pearl can view from their dwelling at the margin of the town, close to the wilderness of the forest. Even when Hester and Pearl physically travel to the society of the town, their separation is apparent.

Chapter 8 Quotes
After putting her finger in her mouth, with many ungracious refusals to answer good Mr. Wilson's questions, the child finally announced that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door.
Related Characters: Pearl, John Wilson
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

At Governor Bellingham's mansion, the Governor, Mr. Wilson, Dimmesdale, and Chillingworth speak to Hester and her daughter Pearl. Bellingham questions whether Hester is morally fit to teach Pearl how to become a virtuous, Christian child. To test Pearl, the "good Mr. Wilson" asks Pearl who made her (expecting that a Puritan child would answer that God made her). Pearl, however, answers as she acts; she claims that she was "not ... made" but "plucked" off a rose bush, just as she refused to sit in Bellingham's lap and instead went through a window, "looking like a wild tropical bird of rich plumage." Pearl knows how she should present herself because Hester has taught her how to be a conventionally good Puritan child, but Pearl chooses not to follow these teachings. Her words and deeds emphasize her wildness -- her affinities to nature, individual choice, and disrespect for authority. The idea that she isn't born or made at all also furthers the idea of Pearl as an otherworldly figure, a kind of angel or sprite that the repressive society surrounding her cannot comprehend or accept.

Chapter 12 Quotes
"Nay; not so, my little Pearl!" answered the minister; for, with the new energy of the moment, all the dread of public exposure, that had so long been the anguish of his life, had returned upon him; and he was already trembling at the conjunction in which—with a strange joy, nevertheless—he now found himself. "Not so, my child. I shall, indeed, stand with thy mother thee one other day, but not to-morrow!"
Related Characters: Arthur Dimmesdale (speaker), Hester Prynne, Pearl
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

On an "obscure night" in May, Dimmesdale stands vigil upon the platform where Hester faced public condemnation with the infant Pearl in her arms. His sanity seems questionable -- at one point in the night he shrieks aloud, startling townspeople including Governor Bellingham and Mistress Hibbins, who appear at their window and lattice. At another point, Dimmesdale merely envisions himself speaking to the passerby Mr. Wilson, and this prospect shocks him, exacerbating his anxiety. Peal and Hester arrive when Dimmesdale laughs, quite strangely, and Pearl echoes his laughter with her own. Dimmesdale invites Hester and Pearl onto the scaffold, and as they stand with linked hands, Pearl asks Dimmesdale to repeat this gesture tomorrow at noon. Dimmesdale refuses; Pearl has reminded him of his constant fear that he will be publicly exposed for his sins, and this fear overpowers his pleasure (his "strange joy") at being (re)united with Hester and Pearl. For Dimmesdale, public life has more power than private, internal desires, and Puritan conformity is stronger than individual conscience.

Chapter 16 Quotes
“'Mother,' said litter Pearl, 'the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom.... I am but a child. It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!' 'Nor ever will, my child, I hope,' said Hester. 'And why not, mother?' asked Pearl, stopping short, just at the beginning of her race. 'Will not it come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?'
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter, Pearl
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester seeks Dimmesdale in the wood, hoping to intercept him and inform him about Chillingworth's true nature, Pearl (naturally) accompanies her. On this day, Pearl is able to stand in the patches of sunlight that make their way onto the forest path, but these bursts of light disappear when Hester attempts to touch them. Pearl, as usual, interprets this phenomenon with uncanny metaphorical accuracy for such a young child; the sunlight, like a townsperson, "runs away and hides" from Hester because of her scarlet letter ("something on your bosom"). Yet we also see Pearl's childlike simplicity, as she assumes that every woman must have such a letter on her, thinking that it grows naturally. Pearl indirectly raises the tension of the novel when she so innocently draws attention to the reason why only Hester has a scarlet letter, referencing but not stating Hester's specific sin. 

Chapter 19 Quotes
"Doth he love us?" said Pearl, looking up with acute intelligence into her mother's face. "Will he go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town?"

"Not now, dear child," answered Hester. "But in days to come he will walk hand in hand with us. We will have a home and fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly. Thou wilt love him; wilt thou not?"

"And will he always keep his hand over his heart?" inquired Pearl.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

After Hester directly tells Pearl that Dimmesdale loves both of them, Pearl questions this sentiment, asking if he will prove his love by entering the town while holding their hands. Pearl echoes the question she asked on the scaffold (if Dimmesdale would stand there in the day's sunlight as well), and here the narrator characterizes and directly describes the "acute intelligence" that these probing queries reveal in Pearl. Again, Pearl is told that Dimmesdale will display this connection before the townspeople on another day ("in days to come"), as the final revelation is delayed even further, intensifying Dimmesdale's hypocrisy and the narrative's tension. Yet after the freeing moments in the woods, Hester can more clearly envision such a future with Dimmesdale -- comfortable times with a "home" and a "fireside." This suggests that the splendid moments she and Dimmesdale had in the forest together are dimmed but not eradicated. Their vision of escaping their town has proved quixotic and impossible, but Hester is more willing to ponder a possible future with Dimmesdale than she has ever been before. 

Chapter 22 Quotes
“Mother," said [Pearl], “was that the same minister that kissed me by the brook?"
“Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl!" whispered her mother. “We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne (speaker), Pearl (speaker), Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

During the inauguration ceremony for the new governor, Pearl sees Dimmesdale among the officials who parade across the market-place. Shortly, Dimmesdale will deliver the Election Speech; he is clearly categorized as a public figure, and he does not appear to even notice Hester and Pearl as he passes by them. This is apparent to the ever-observant Pearl, who questions her mother whether Dimmesdale is the "same minister" that she saw in the woods. Pearl thus introduces a powerful question about personal and social identity, a question which her mother rebukes. Hester suggests that we must separate events from "the forest" -- events of natural human passion, from incidents in "the market-place" -- incidents constrained within public arenas. Despite all of her individuality and strength, Hester does not here attempt to close the separation between the personal and the public. 

Chapter 23 Quotes
Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor for ever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl, Arthur Dimmesdale
Related Symbols: Pearl
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

After Dimmesdale finally admits his specific sin in front of the townspeople, and reveals that he shares the burden of the scarlet letter with Hester, as the father her child, he asks Pearl for a kiss. Instead of refusing the individuals around herself, and acting according to her personal impulses like a wild creature, Pearl actually complies with Dimmesdale's request. She kisses his lips, and she suddenly appears to transform from supernatural to human. Pearl becomes a woman, wholly ceasing to be the chimerical, precocious child whose unnaturalness reminds Hester of her flawed conception and intimate association with sin. Once Pearl's human father is revealed, Pearl becomes human as well; Dimmesdale saves her as he saves himself. 

Chapter 24 Quotes
But there was a more real life for Hester Prynne here, in New England, than in that unknown region where Pearl had found a home. Here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence. She had returned, therefore, and resumed,—of her own free will, for not the sternest magistrate of that iron period would have imposed it,—resumed the symbol of which we have related so dark a tale. Never afterwards did it quit her bosom. But ... the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too.
Related Characters: Hester Prynne, Pearl
Related Symbols: The Scarlet Letter, Pearl
Page Number: 244-245
Explanation and Analysis:

After the narrator describes Pearl's uncertain fate, he more confidently relates that Hester stayed "here," the site of the story. The narrator has described Hester's future with an air of inevitability throughout the novel, and it continues here; it seems that Hester had no way to escape from the scarlet letter, as her association with it was too powerful. The meaning of the scarlet letter continued to mutate over time, however. In the novel it initially signified "adultery," serving as a symbol of shame, and then came to mean "able," serving as a symbol of Hester's abilities, but finally it became a sort of legend -- a garment which brought solemn respect, even reverence (perhaps a reference to it's final possible meaning, "angel"). Hester did not take off the letter again -- Dimmesdale was gone -- yet the letter changed, with Hester, over the ensuing many years.

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Pearl Character Timeline in The Scarlet Letter

The timeline below shows where the character Pearl appears in The Scarlet Letter. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
...the menacing crowd assembled before her. Hester touches the scarlet letter and squeezes her baby, Pearl, so tightly that Pearl cries. Hester then realizes that the letter and her baby are... (full context)
Chapter 4
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When Hester and Pearl return to prison, Pearl cries uncontrollably. The prison guards allow a doctor in to help... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...three years pass. Hester, now free from prison, decides not to leave Boston. She takes Pearl to live in an abandoned cabin on the outskirts of town. (full context)
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Hester grows increasingly lonely. Pearl, her only companion, is a constant reminder of the source of her alienation: sin. Hester... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The narrator describes Pearl as the human manifestation of Hester's sin: Pearl is filled with a sense of defiance... (full context)
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Like Hester, Pearl is painfully aware of her isolation. She has an innate sense that Hester's scarlet letter... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Rumors surface that the authorities are planning to take Pearl from Hester because they fear that Pearl is possessed and dangerous to Hester. And if... (full context)
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...deliver a pair of gloves that she has sewn for him. Children taunt Hester and Pearl on their walk to the Governor's. Pearl fends them off. (full context)
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At one point, Pearl points out Hester's distorted reflection in the breastplate of a suit of armor: Hester appears... (full context)
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Pearl spots a garden with soil too hard to support the "ornamental gardening" popular in England,... (full context)
Chapter 8
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John Wilson, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale arrive at the Governor's residence. The men tease Pearl, calling her a demon-child because of her scarlet clothing, but stop when they realize that... (full context)
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The Governor asks Hester how she can justify keeping Pearl. Hester says she'll teach Pearl what she's learned from wearing the scarlet letter. The Governor... (full context)
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Mr. Wilson asks Pearl who made her. Pearl says that she was plucked from the rose bush just outside... (full context)
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...investigation into Hester's fitness as a mother. Hester says she will die before giving up Pearl. (full context)
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Hester begs Dimmesdale to defend her. Dimmesdale argues that Pearl was sent by God to serve as Hester's one true punishment and to guard her... (full context)
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Pearl approaches Dimmesdale and grasps his hand. She then runs down the hall. Mr. Wilson remarks... (full context)
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Dimmesdale's speech convinces the Governor not to take Pearl from Hester. On their way out of the Governor's residence, Hester and Pearl see Mistress... (full context)
Chapter 10
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One day, Chillingworth and Dimmesdale notice Hester and Pearl in the cemetery outside Dimmesdale's home. Pearl is playing on the headstones and attaching burrs... (full context)
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Pearl throws one of the burrs she is carrying toward Dimmesdale. She tells Hester that they... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Convinced that Dimmesdale is Pearl's father, Chillingworth embarks on a campaign to make his patient as miserable as possible. Dimmesdale... (full context)
Chapter 12
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One night, Dimmesdale mounts the town scaffold where Hester and Pearl once stood to be shamed. He imagines the scene filled with townspeople. He cries out... (full context)
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Hester and Pearl, returning from the deathbed of the colony's first governor, do spot Dimmesdale, and join him... (full context)
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...meteor lights up the sky in what Dimmesdale thinks is the shape of an "A." Pearl notices Chillingworth watching them. Chillingworth, looking like an "arch-fiend," urges Dimmesdale to get down from... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Seven years have now passed since Pearl's birth. Hester has become more accepted by the community, and the embroidered scarlet letter has... (full context)
Chapter 15
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She rejoins Pearl by the seaside. Pearl has arranged seaweed to form a letter "A" on her own... (full context)
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Hester lies and says she wears the letter because of its beautiful gold thread. Pearl, knowing better, seeks the real reason, and Hester threatens to punish her. (full context)
Chapter 16
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As Hester waits for Dimmesdale, Pearl asks to hear the story of the Black Man, a nickname for the devil. Pearl... (full context)
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Hester asks how Pearl heard this story and she responds that an old woman told her the Black Man... (full context)
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Dimmesdale approaches. He appears weak, and walks with his hand over his heart, where Pearl suspects the Black Man has also left his mark. (full context)
Chapter 18
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Dimmesdale and Hester discuss Pearl, whom Hester says she barely understands. Pearl, meanwhile, has been playing alone in the forest,... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Dimmesdale says he feared that Pearl's resemblance to him would give away his secret—the narrator says Pearl is a "living hieroglyphic."... (full context)
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Pearl asks if Dimmesdale will return with them hand in hand to town. Hester says he... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Hester and Dimmesdale agree to flee with Pearl to Europe. As Hester makes plans for them to leave on a ship bound for... (full context)
Chapter 21
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It's inauguration day for the new governor. Hester and Pearl await the procession of government officials, and stand near a bunch of Indians ("painted barbarians")... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Dimmesdale appears in the procession of officials and looks more energetic than ever before. Pearl barely recognizes him as the man who kissed her in the forest. Hester tells Pearl... (full context)
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Pearl asks Mistress Hibbins if she has seen what lies beneath Dimmesdale's hand. Mistress Hibbins invites... (full context)
Chapter 23
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After his triumphant sermon, Dimmesdale sees Hester and Pearl in front of the scaffold. He asks them to approach him at the scaffold. Chillingworth... (full context)
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...and begs her to let him take responsibility for his shame. Supported by Hester and Pearl, Dimmesdale turns to the crowd and announces that he is guilty of the same sin... (full context)
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Dimmesdale falls to the floor and asks Pearl for a kiss. She kisses him and cries, and narrator says her tears were a... (full context)
Chapter 24
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After Dimmesdale's death, Chillingworth lost his vitality and died within a year, leaving Pearl a share of his property in England and New England. No one knew for sure... (full context)