The Scarlet Letter

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Pearl Symbol Icon
Pearl is a living symbol, the physical embodiment of Hester and Dimmesdale's sin. In Chapter 19, the narrator even calls Pearl a "living hieroglyphic." Yet Pearl, from her name to her comfort with nature, is also the most pure character in the novel. While the Puritans see her as a demon, the reader comes to see her as a kind of nature-sprite, cast out by a society that cannot accept her "sinful" origins.

Pearl Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

The The Scarlet Letter quotes below all refer to the symbol of 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 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.


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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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