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STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES:

CLASSIC LITERATURE ANALYSIS

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Scarlet Letter
Often throughout The Scarlet Letter there are symbolic references made. The story deals with a Puritan woman who commits adultery and raises an illegitimate child named Pearl. The author, Nathanial Hawthorne, seems to be rather fond of using religious and natural images to symbolize different points, possibly because of his own Puritan background. One of the purposes of this symbolism is to show that Puritanism is hypocritical and that their religious viewpoints are against the natural order, which is done by using contrasting natural and religious symbols in the descriptions of Pearl. First, Hawthorne uses the backdrop of the natural world to show not only that Pearl is anonymous to the Puritan culture, but also above it. This is done by using positive natural images and metaphors to the natural world. Describing Pearl as a "...lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion" (pg. 81), begins this image. This "rank luxuriance" is based on the strict Puritan morals. It describes the child as a mistake or an outcast even though the birth of a child is supposed to be a wonderful thing. Pearl also has a sort of love and disposition uncommon of other Puritan children illustrated by the statement: "...Hester could not help questioning, at such moments, whether Pearl were a human child. she seemed rather an airy sprite..." (pg. 84). Her mother, being of a Puritan background, seems to disturb her that Pearl acts so free spirited. The best example of the difference of Pearl in a positive way is a direct statement about Puritan children: "...Puritan elders; the ugliest weeds of the garden were their children..." (pg. 87). By describing the other puritan children as weeds, Hawthorne symbolizes the paths that their lives will take. Weeds will grow up big but will never be as beautiful as a flower and often tries to smother flowers and kill them off. The religious descriptions of Pearl are often used to show the Puritan ideals of the fact that the mother committed adultery. Even though the child can not help that she has been labeled as an outcast the rest of her life indefinitely. Cited conscientiously, "Pearl was a born outcast of the infantile world. An imp of evil, emblem and product of sin, she had no right among Christian infants." (pg. 86). These people which are supposed to be Christian and love their neighbors are being total hypocrites by despising a child just because they believe that it was erected by the process of a sinful act. Even her simple childhood temper tantrums are described as being evil; "...with shrill, incoherent exclamations, that made her mother tremble because they had so much the sound of a witch's anathemas in some unknown tongue." (pg. 86). Hawthorne uses the witch connotation to give it more image as to what exactly it was that the Puritans feared the most. Even Pearl's own mother, an outcast herself, is frightened by these temper tantrums. Throughout the book there are examples of when Pearl has almost some kind of supernatural ability to see things the way that they really are. A child these young with these gifts of perception would definitely have been viewed evil in Puritan society. It was assumed to be some type of witchcraft. This is even more obvious with the observations that she makes. When Pearl questions her mother as to where she came from, the response typically was "the Heavenly Father." Pearl then proceeds to point at Hester's scarlet letter and replies that she did not come from the heavenly father. This statement at such a young age reflects that not only does she recognize herself as an evil outcast from the Christians but also somewhat of a heretical statement. These two different conflicting groups of symbols are more than likely nothing more than a resentment of Hawthorn's Puritan upbringing, but do say a lot about Puritan society. This contrast of two almost opposite worlds show a great deal of hypocrisy among the Puritans. The natural world symbols show Pearl as a normal good-hearted child, while the religious symbols show her as not only a horrible mistake, but as a child that almost teeters on the brink of being possessed or demonic in some way. The most important part is that it is the reader's own opinion as to who is correct.

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