Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, “The Scarlet Letter”, proves that when a woman is shunned by an oppressive society it empowers and liberates her over time.
In examining chapter six, the reader is given a deeper description and understanding of Pearl’s character in the novel. Pearl is described as moody, passionate, and defiant because she does not conform to the stereotypical gender roles of this Puritan society. By simply being herself, she represents a new sort of femininity that challenges the role that the Puritans both expect and attempt to force upon her. Pearl, therefore, represents the scarlet letter that is embroidered on her mothers breast by showing both shame and triumph wherever she goes. Pearl was not often exposed to society growing up, all she ever knew was life with her mother. This allowed her to develop a strong personality because she wasn’t being influenced by the oppressive societal gender norms around her.
Pearl was free to dress as she wanted and act in a childlike manner that other children were taught to suppress. Therefore, when she and her mother did enter town they were looked down upon for being different. “Man had marked this woman’s sin by a scarlet letter, which had such potent and disastrous efficacy that no human sympathy could reach her, save it were sinful like herself. God, as a direct consequence of the sin which man thus punished, had given her a lovely child, whose place was on that same dishonored bosom, to connect her parent for ever with the race and descent of mortals”(82). Similar to her mother’s place in society Pearl was born to be different.
Hawthorne subtly emphasizes that Hester and Pearl are above the people around them because they stand out and defy the societal norms. Both Pearl and Hester are described in such a profound way that feminists would agree with the way Hawthorne developed their characters, especially Pearls in this chapter. They are the protagonists in the novel yet they don’t follow the gender roles of wearing the same clothes and acting in the same way as every other women. This was a monumental step in addressing gender roles on Hawthorne’s part. By making an example of Pearl to demonstrate what a woman should not do during this time period it accentuates the benefits of being different and therefore defines Pearl as a feminist. Hawthorne describes the power of the scarlet letter on Hester’s chest as something that enables her to enter “regions where other women had dare not tread” (Hawthorne 158). Similar to the scarlet letter on Hester, Pearl gets to explore freedom from her gender roles in a way that other Puritan women can not. In chapter 6, Pearl’s mannerisms are very dramatic and overly emphasized and she is outspoken because she was never taught to suppress her ideas, such as in her laugh, her temper tantrums, and the way she approaches everything with a “look so intelligent, yet inexplicable, perverse, and sometimes so malicious”.
(Hawthorne 83) Pearl’s other worldly character seems to serve more of a symbol of Hester’s passionate sin rather than just serving as the character of her daughter. Feminists would say that by describing Pearl the way he did in this chapter, Hawthorne was breaking a gender stereotype of this time. “In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being, whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder.” A women had never been described like this before in a novel; it was breaking gender roles by showing that women can be beautiful even when they break social norms or are the product of sin. Hawthorne describes a little girl that represents sin as something wild and mysterious yet full of life and intelligence, thereby questioning the typical role of young girls in society.When forced to wear the scarlet letter, Hester makes it herself, by adding “elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of golden thread”. The scarlet letter ultimately empowers Hester and allows her to break free from the society around her. Hester’s power comes from her defiance; she has abandoned the role of femininity by failing to live up to its standards.
The wild-natured strength that is created within Hester, the cause of which lies in the rejection of patriarchal law, and therefore inaccessible by women living within this law, is the new kind of femininity that Hester and later Pearl come to represent. Hawthorne hints throughout the novel that the “ideal” woman in this puritan society is best portrayed as being tender, beautiful, and gentle. This description fits Hester at the beginning of the novel however as time progresses she begins to break free from her normal gender roles and develop a primitive side that she passes to her daughter. The reader sees in chapter six that Hawthorne’s definition of feminine beauty changes when he describes Pearl. A whole chapter was dedicated to her to outline the importance of her character and the beauty of the scarlet letter of which she represents. This is shown by the way she dresses in the, “richest tissues that could be procured, and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore, before the public eye.
” Pearls character is “so intelligent, yet inexplicable, perverse, and sometimes so malicious”(84). There is a large discrepancy in how Hester and Pearl act. One is seen as a traditional woman, the other out of control, wild, and outspoken. However, the side of Hester that she hides from the public comes out in the form of Pearl. Therefore Pearl represents the scarlet letter, by portraying the wild side side of Hester, through the way she expresses herself. Feminists would find this groundbreaking because Hawthorne describes this young girl as such a strong personality compared to other main character such as Dimmesdale, who is viewed as weak and fearful to the reader. By making Pearl have a more intense essence than a male character, Hawthorne is breaking gender roles.
Being shunned allowed Hester to explore herself and her personality in a way other women in this time wouldn’t be able to. She has more time to reflect on her self worth, femininity and the puritan ideologies as a whole. We can see that the carelessness Hester has developed is passed to Pearl in this chapter, “the mother’s impassioned state had been the medium through which were transmitted to the unborn infant the rays of its moral life; and, however white and clear originally, they had taken the deep stains of crimson and gold, the fiery lustre, the black shadow, and the untempered light, of the intervening substance.” Hester becomes above the society she lives in because she becomes used to being on the outside of it; she understands its mechanics and the issues within it. Pearl however seems to have been born with an understanding of her place in society because she never seemed to question why she was shunned, she instead embraced her role in society. “She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart.”(Hawthorne 84) Feminists would appreciate Pearls carefree nature because it proves a main idea in the novel that when women are freed from conforming they form individuality and independent thinking.
Pearl is depicted as a very bizarre character, and in chapter 6 the reader gains an understanding of her personality and role in the novel. The relationship between Hester and Pearl is also very unusual and at times disturbing, but ultimately, the pairs relationship and part in the book helped break gender roles. At times, Hawthorne does not even describe Pearl as a real character but instead something impalpable with “some dark and wild peculiarity” (81). Some feminists may think that the way Hawthorne describes Pearl in this chapter is offensive and off putting by describing a woman like an animal. However, I believe he is challenging social norms and developing the character Pearl to represent how women can break through the chains of an oppressive society.