The connection between Hester and Hutchinson
the narrator reveals insight into how these women saw their communities differently. When Hester and Pearl visit the governor’s abode, Hester tells Pearl to look at the flowers in his garden since they were unlike the ones they saw in the woods. Once Pearl sees these flowers, she insists on having one of the red roses in the garden. Why the child is so persistent is not immediately identifiable, unless she somehow understands the symbolic allegations of the rose.
That there is a link between these three female characters is evident in the narrative; it is most evident through Hawthorne’s narrative tool, the rose.
The relationship, however, between the three women is not simply about how each was somehow unfit for their Puritan communities. Each woman took a different approach to her expulsion from their society. Each woman took a step further in their liberation from a patriarchal society.
The connection between Hester and Hutchinson does not simply involve Hester’s reliving Hutchinson’s past throughout the novel.
There are obvious parallels between Hutchinson and Hester, yet Colacurcio claims that their “relationship is not one of ‘identity’”; and although on the surface the relationship between the two appears to be allegorical, “The Scarlet Letter is probably not intended as an allegory of New England’s Antinomian Crisis” because, Colacurcio continues, “Hawthorne’s historical tales never work quite that simply”. Hester’s story does not simply parallel Hutchinson’s; it takes it one step further. In a sense, she is “adulterating” the Puritan community and the church in her belief that justification could in fact be physically perceived in individuals through their moral actions. Hester’s story, however, was not only influenced by her minister’s words, for she was literally in an “adulterous” relationship with Dimmesdale. Both men also stand by and fail to defend the women who’s reputations they have ruined; as Colacurcio puts it, the story of their lives may be entitled “‘Seduced and Abandoned in Old Boston’” (462).
Hawthorne does not simply take the story of Hutchinson a step further by creating a fictional character based on her. Rather, he comments on seventeenth-century Puritan society and perhaps proposes that antinomianism can only take an individual so far; but when Hester adopts a more individualistic approach to her life than did Hutchinson, she is capable of changing her community. Hutchinson leaves her community never to return after she is excommunicated. While Hester and Pearl leave after Dimmesdale’s death, Hester eventually returns. Hester comes back to the place of her shame because, as the narrator explains, “here had been her sin; here, her sorrow; and here was yet to be her penitence” (SL 263).
One interpretation of Hester’s decision to return is that she remains a passive female character, and this punishment she dutifully accepts until the end of her life. Bercovitch sees Hester’s intentions as self-serving, and accuses her of “martyrdom,” suggesting that a more appropriate name for The Scarlet Letter would be “The Martyrdom” of Hester Prynne’. Bercovitch’s contention, since Hester’s character, according to individual readers, may see her return differently. Bercovitch argues that since the letter is a symbol, Hester controls what it means for her; it might not demarcate her disgrace, but it reverberates with her self-defiance.
Bercovitch also takes a closer look at the function of the letter and comes to the conclusion that “the basic symbolic opposition in The Scarlet Letter is that between self and society” (29). Hester’s quest, then, becomes heroic; she alone defies an entire “society.” Hester may not have been attempting to change the community’s perspective on her. Hester was too concerned with what her Puritan community thought of her; if she is rebelling, her actions may be more self-centered; it is just as likely that Hester does not care for a community who has disowned her, her intentions may instead be directed at Chilling worth, for example. The reader must consider multiple readings of Hester’s character sine the letter takes on a personal meaning for Hester that is independent from what the sign implicates to any other character within the narrative.
Pearl eventually leaves Boston and settles somewhere else; Hester joins her for a while, but then returns by herself. According to the narrator, Pearl would have gladly had her mother by her side, a fact which makes Hester’s reason for her return to the community that ostracized her even more incomprehensible. Bercovitch sees this return, on Hester’s behalf, as proof of her insolence. Hester, therefore, has not returned to live in shame and atone for her sins, which was what her original sentence demanded of her.
Bay explains that, “her return is not entirely a penitent’s return, for ultimately, though quietly, she forces the community to admit that the scarlet letter is, after all, a badge of honor and not a token of shame”, Passion and Authority. This act proves her individuality, and she has changed her community to such an extent that they appear to evolve from a Puritan frame of mind to a more liberal mindset. The Puritan community’s new attitude. Michael Kearns concludes, The Scarlet Letter embodies a belief in the moral value of sympathy that was more familiar and acceptable to Hawthorne’s actual audience than to the spectators at Hester’s public humiliation” (36). The author again is placing Hester’s judgment in the hands of his audience, and his audience makes the final decision, whether to believe Hester should be penitent for her sins, or that she has every right to change the entire town of Boston’s beliefs.
When the community no longer reads the implied meaning of the letter, “adultery,” and comes to interpret it as representing Hester’s true character as an “angel,” or “able,” she has won her battle against society. The meaning of the letter, then takes on its opposite implied meaning, and according to Bercovitch, “[n]ot doing its office almost comes to define the function of the symbol” (90). As a result of Hester and community’s reinterpretation of the letter, in the end the “helpless” Puritan woman wears the symbol with a sense of pride rather than shame. Though the letter may come to be interpreted differently by the Puritan community, Hester, and even the reading audience, I argue that different characters may come to see the letter differently within the text, specifically, Pearl.
Pearl, as the living symbol of the letter, does not come to represent Hester’s self-serving purposes. Hester does not communicate what the letter means to Pearl, even when her daughter directly asks her mother what the letter means. It is important that Hester does not directly communicate her sorrows to her child. If Pearl felt as Hester did about the scarlet letter, as a symbol of her retribution, then she too, as a living symbol of the letter, would take on the somber aspect of the symbol’s meaning. Hester does not use the letter didactically; she never warns Pearl not to act as her mother did or else her daughter would be destined to a life a solitary life.
Because Hester does not directly instruct her daughter, Pearl can choose what lesson to take from this symbol; Pearl, therefore, does not let it affect her nature. Since other Puritan children were raised to believe in their depravity, their parent’s beliefs are passed down to them. Yet Pearl was not raised according to Puritan ideologies; therefore, “she had not the disease of sadness, which almost all children, in these latter days, inherit, with the scrofula, from the troubles of their ancestors”. Critics such as Bercovitch and Baym have interpreted the meaning of the letter as Hester, the narrator, and even the reader may see it. Pearl, however, is not raised within a seventeenth-century Puritan mindset; she exists in a world of her own, and as a result, she is an interesting case study in nineteenth-century ideologies. If a child was raised in isolation among the natural world, would that individual become an ideal figure of transcendental ideals? Pearl, if she has learned to read the symbols of her past, understands that she is as individualistic as her feminine ancestors. Pearl has lived a life of isolation among the natural world and has learned, as a result, to interpret moral instruction from nature since she understands the meaning of roses.
Pearl cannot simply be categorized as “good” or “evil”; rather, she is natural. Pearl has not been brought up by st. Strict Calvinist ideals that categorize individuals as either “good” or “evil,” “sanctified” or “damned”; the reader must then see Pearl from a nineteenth – century point of view. Hawthorne created Pearl’s character with nineteenth-century perspectives in mind. One of these perceptions during the 1850’s, at the time of Hawthorne’s composition of The Scarlet Letter, as Barbara Garlitz explains, was “the cult of the sinless child.” Because of this “cult”, Pearl’s “naughtiness was omitted” in The Scarlet Letter (690).
Calvinists held that man inherited original sin and thus children were depraved as well; whereas liberal Christians believed the individual was born sinless. Garlitz also notes such an attitude from Margaret Forster, a critic of the time, who observed Pearl is “‘angelic sweetness and purity’” who stands out among a solemn Puritan environment. Hawthorne may have had this outlook about innocent children in mind when he created Pearl, yet Garlitz concludes that “there is evidence that Hawthorne deliberately made Pearl not innocent” since he described ‘a devil’ revealed ‘in the eyes of a young child’. This characterization of Pearl is more constant with Hawthorne’s multi-faceted female characters; though his light heroines may have sustained virtuous qualities, they were not completely innocent. Hawthorne’s ambiguous portrayal of light heroines to Priscilla in The Blithedale Romance; though a light heroine, she is not without fault; she indirectly brings about Zenobia’s death, counters Zenobia’s more progressive ideas about women, and impedes Hollingsworth’s development as an individual.
If she is a child of the natural world, completely separate from an artificial Puritan community, then she is beyond Puritan standards. Pearl may not understand that if Hester and Dimmesdale admit to their affair, they must face consequences posed their Puritan society. In Pearl’s natural world, her parent’s transgression is not a sin; it is only an expression of Hester’s
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