The Scarlet Letter

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The Occult Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Sin Theme Icon
Individuality and Conformity Theme Icon
Puritanism Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
The Occult Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Scarlet Letter, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Occult Theme Icon

The first association most people have with the town of Salem, Massachusetts is the infamous "Salem Witch Trials." Set in and around Boston, The Scarlet Letter also deals with the specter of witchcraft and the occult. But the novel treats witchcraft and the occult sympathetically. By associating Pearl with other outcasts like Mistress Hibbins, Hawthorne suggests that witches were created by, and victims of, the excessively strict Puritan society. Puritan society created the witches by being so intolerant that people became interested in witchcraft as a way of expressing natural human feelings that Puritanism repressed. Puritanism then viewed witches as a threat to its repressive society and therefore sentenced all witches, like Mistress Hibbins, to death.

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The Occult Quotes in The Scarlet Letter

Below you will find the important quotes in The Scarlet Letter related to the theme of The Occult.
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.

“Wilt thou go with us tonight? There will be a merry company in the forest; and I well-nigh promised the Black Man that comely Hester Prynne should make one.”
Related Characters: Mistress Hibbins (speaker), Hester Prynne
Related Symbols: Red and Black
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

As Hester and Pearl leave Governor Bellingham's mansion, the witch Mistress Hibbins briefly appears. She is the "bitter-tempered" sister of Governor Bellingham, one of the most authoritative and proper individuals in the colony; her appearance reminds us that authority and dissent are closely associated with each other. Here, they are two sides of the same coin. 

In this scene, Mistress Hibbins is also linked to Pearl; immediately before Hester departs, Dimmesdale comments that Pearl "hath witchcraft in her" and is similar to such a witch. Yet, this "little baggage," that so reminded Dimmesdale of a witch, is the reason that Hester refuses Mistress Hibbins' offer to go to the forest and serve the devil (the "Black Man"). Despite her character similarities to characters who engage in witchcraft, Pearl fosters virtuous behavior in her mother -- as Dimmesdale earlier suggested. This illustrates one of the many ways in which the novel plays with binaries such as good and evil. 

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.