The Role Of Pearl And Chillingworth In Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Decent Essays
The Letter in Life: the role of Pearl and Chillingworth

In the corners of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, stand two fascinating

characters—Pearl Prynne and Roger Chillingworth. Both of these characters are intimately

connected with the protagonist, Hester Prynne, as her illegitimate child and her estranged

husband. They each have a surreal presence and are deeply involved in Hester’s life, particularly

her life after the discovery of her adultery. They are made to be very similar throughout the

story and come to play nearly identical roles. Pearl’s birth is not only the result of the very act

that beings about the scarlet letter, but she becomes just as constant in her mother’s life as that

symbol. In a similar
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They both are introduced to the reader at the scene of public shaming and are

intimately connected to Hester. In addition, both are characters acquainted with wildness and

mystery—traits associated with the crime itself. In the beginning, Pearl demonstrates a “wild,

desperate, defiant mood” (63). This mood reflects the feelings of Hester at the time of Pearl’s

birth. While, Hester is still in turmoil about the discovery of her sin, Pearl embodies this with

her wild passions. The mystery of her father’s identity is also the mystery of Hester’s fellow

sinner. In these two ways she starts out as a symbol of her mother’s actions. Chillingworth’s

history is also shrouded in mystery. The people of the town wonder at his sudden presence and

are, “inclined to see a providential hand in Roger Chillingworth’s so opportune arrival” (81).

None of them know who he is, but they believe him to be a good man. Their idea of him

parallels Dimmesdale’s situation. The people see Dimmesdale as holy and would never
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Just as

Dimmesdale’s symbol is secret, so is his tormentor. Both characters constantly shadow their

counterparts and remind them of the sin committed. They are even more effective and

tormenting the sinner than the letter itself. While Pearl is a public embodiment of her mother’s

publicly known sin, Chillingworth is a private tormentor of the sin kept secret.

The role of these characters as embodiments of the scarlet letter intensifies near the end

of the book. Later in the book, we are told that “The scarlet letter had not done its office” (109).

Note that when Hester has decided to run away with Dimmesdale, she throws off her letter,

thinking she can be rid of it. It is Pearl who makes her put it back on, fussing and finally

shouting, “’Come thou and take it up!’” (135). The letter at this point has ceased to keep Hester

from continuing in sin, but Pearl fulfills its role better by forcing her to remember the letter and

the truth of their sin. Dimmesdale, also willing to run away with Hester, has clearly in turn

neglected to learn anything formed his own Scarlet Letter. He very nearly does run away,

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