The Scarlet Letter

Lesson 8


Analyze and explain Pearl’s role as a symbol in the novel.

Readings and Materials

  • Book: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne  — Chapter 6: Pearl

Target Task


Question 1

What does the phrase, “the warfare of Hester’s spirit at that epoch was perpetuated in Pearl” (p. 25), suggest that Hester believes about her daughter?


that Pearl’s capricious spirit was caused by Hester’s inner conflict during pregnancy


that Pearl is possessed by the devil because she was conceived in sin


that Pearl is a symbol of God’s compassion and forgiveness for the sins of humanity


that Pearl’s radiance and beauty will ultimately cause the people of Boston to accept her

Question 2

Is Pearl a symbol of sin or a symbol of redemption? Hester seems to have some doubt about this! What do you think the author intends for Pearl to symbolize? Why? Use evidence from the chapter to support your answer.

Key Questions


  • Note the title of this chapter. Based on the title and the first sentence, what can we infer this chapter will be about?
  • According to the narrator, why did Hester name her daughter Pearl? What was the “great price” Hester paid in order to have Pearl? To what degree does Hawthorne seem to suggest that this “great price” is demanded by God? By Puritan society?
  • Why does Hester feel apprehension about Pearl? What does this reveal about Hester?
  • Track the narrator’s descriptions of Pearl’s physical appearance on pp. 24 and 25.
  • Track the narrator’s descriptions of Pearl’s character on p. 25 and 26. To what does Hester attribute these character traits?
  • What is “the look” that Pearl gives Hester? What does Hester know is coming when she sees it? What does it make Hester wonder?
  • Why does Hester sometimes burst into tears according to the narrator? (p. 26)
  • How does isolation impact Pearl? (p. 27) How does she respond to it?
  • What is the impact of the repetition of the words witch and witchcraft in relation to Pearl on pp. 27 and 28?
  • How else does the narrator’s diction help to characterize Pearl?
  • What is the first object to which Pearl responds as a baby? What is the significance?
  • How old does Pearl seem in this chapter?
  • What do the wild flowers represent? How do they help to characterize Pearl?
  • What question does Pearl ask Hester at the end of the chapter? Why does Hester hesitate as she answers? How does Pearl respond? What is the significance of this interaction?
  • The author is developing Pearl as a character and as a symbol in this chapter. As a character, what kind of child is she? As a symbol, what might she represent?