A Look into the Scarlet Letter: Wild Blood in the Brook
The Scarlet Letter
Nature of Wildness
Emerson's take on nature "refers to essences unchanged by man; space, the air, the river, the leaf" (Bode 8). This take on mature goes along with other textbook definitions of nature such as it being defined as a primitive state of existence, which is untouched and uninfluenced by people or artificial ideas. Nature as a whole is an existence that cannot be tamed by any outside influence and refuses to be molded into what we view it as. The character of nature is wild and unpredictable, much like that of a free spirited innocent little girl. There are times when nature can be forgiving and tender, then others where it is ruthless and sour. In The Scarlet Letter, Pearls' wild nature is often compared to the elements within the dark forest, particularly the brook. In the novel Pearl shares a unique relationship with the brook; she finds refuge within its depths and in some cases the brook appears to be a likeness of her.
One instance where the brook resembles Pearl is their origins. "Pearl resembled the brook, inasmuch as the current of her life gushed from a well-spring as mysterious" (Hawthorne 121). A brook has an unknown main water source and just flows freely throughout the forest; Pearl as well has an unknown origin. Since her mother refused to announce the name of her father it becomes a mystery within the novel as to who her father is. So like the brook, Pearl is lost and unknown travelling among these people who judge and ridicule her and her mother. The brook itself is also trapped in this state of sorrow because it flows through the lonely forest whispering its tale at every edge of earth, just as Pearl travels lonely about the town's people.
Another image of the brook resembling Pearl is that: "All these giant trees and boulders of granite seemed intent on making a mystery of the course of this small brook; fearing perhaps, that with its never-ceasing loquacity it should whisper tales out of the heart of the old forest whence it flowed, or mirror its revelations on the smooth surface of a pool." (120). Here Hester and Dimmesdale are like the "giant trees and boulders" hiding the mystery of Pearls "course". They feared that people would see the resemblances between Pearl and Dimmesdale, so they kept Pearls' lineage a mystery and only met in secrecy.
The brook and Pearl have similar qualities when it comes to the idea of having "wild blood" (164). Most of the town's people didn't know where Pearl came from and often referred to her as having "wild blood". The idea of her having wild blood relates back to the brook in that the brook is also wild and unrestrained like Pearl. There are many instances in the novel where Pearl is uncontrollable like in chapter 19 where Hester is demanding Pearl to cross the brook and greet the minister, but she refuses and throws a temper tantrum bursting "into a fit of passion, gesticulating violently, and throwing her small figure into the most extravagant contortions...she accompanied this wild outbreak with piercing shrieks" (134). Pearl only ceases her "wild outbreak" when her mother gives in and places the scarlet letter back on her chest. Like the brook, Pearl has this sense of unrestrained wildness and she needs this wild power in order to push along in her life.
Pearl and the brook are both similar in other ways as well, such as, how they both are consumed with loquaciousness within their solitude: "The brook, in the course of its little lifetime among the forest-trees, had gone through so solemn an experience that it could not help talking about it, and seemed to have nothing else to say." (121). Pearl does this as well when she incessantly nags her mother about the scarlet letter and its meaning. She has lived this life of solitude with her mother and day in and day out sees this bold red letter on her mothers' chest and can't help but ask about its meaning. Similarly Pearl is consumed with how Dimmesdale would only hold their hands under the cloak of darkness. After he held their hands she asked numerous times "Wilt thou stand here with mother and me, to-morrow noontide?" and he responds with no some other time (101). Throughout the novel Pearl would ask Hester if the minister will greet her like he did in the woods. Again like the brook, Pearl dwells on specific instances in her life and hounds her mother with questions because she has lived this life of solitude and has nothing else to talk about.
Another image where pearl and the brook are similar is how they both travel through darkness yet they never seem to stop flowing. In the novel the brook flows through what we know to be the dark forest which is associated with evil and the "black man". Likewise, Pearl herself has to push on through her own darkness: "...and had flowed through scenes shadowed as heavily with gloom." (121). The brook continues to travel through this dark forest, which is a symbol of evil and wildness, and Pearl, like the brook, is also being dragged through this life of evil and sorrow. She has to walk everyday with a mother who wears her shame literally on her breast and deals with the insults dished out by her peers. Like the brook, Pearl overcomes the pebbles or rocks that stand in her path and continues to flow without hesitating.
Pearl is not only a mirror image of the brook, but she also finds some refuge within its traveling waters. When Pearl is first confronted with "a pool of water" she attempts to conjure up her reflection s if she is looking for a portal into its liquid world: "she had flirted fancifully with her own image in a pool of water, beckoning the phantom forth, and - as it declined to venture - seeking a passage for herself into its sphere of impalpable earth and unattainable sky." (115). Pearl wishes to escape into another world or to bring forth her image so that she would have playmate. The idea of escaping through a portal reminded me of Dimmesdale's idea of the brook being a portal into two worlds, and it's almost as if Pearl was trying to run away into this liquid creation but was unsuccessful. Perhaps, she was unsuccessful because she wasn't gazing into the brook, but into an inlet on the seashore. The idea of the brook being a "boundary between two worlds" appears on page 133 where Dimmesdale makes the notion that the Pearl is unattainable because legends say that elfish spirits cannot cross a running stream, and it has been said before that Pearl is an elfish child. But I'm not convinced that she is elfish anymore and maybe she has crossed over into a new world and has taken on a new persona. We see her morphing into this new nymph-like persona when the brook reflects her image: "it reflected a perfect image of her little figure, with all the brilliant picturesqueness of her beauty, in its adornment of flowers and wreathed foliage, but more refined and spiritualized than the reality" (133). This image is one of tranquility and peace and embodies those nymph-like qualities that Pearl has taken on. She is no longer this devilish child, but a gentle woodland creature from nature. She doesn't revert back to her displeasing temperament until she is confronted with her mother and Dimmesdale at the brook's edge: "Seen in the brook, once more, was the shadowy wrath of Pearl's image, crowned and girdled with flowers, but stamping its foot, wildly gesticulating, and, in the midst of all, still pointing its small forefinger at Hester's bosom!" (134). In one breath this peaceful child transformed into this rage induced figure that nature has recognized as a "shadowy wrath". Perhaps she isn't allowed to fully transform and be at peace because she is always reminded of her mother's shame and maybe not knowing who her father is send Pearl into fits of rage.
Pearl's last attempt at finding refuge in the brook occurs when she rushes to it in order to wash off Dimmesdale's unwanted kiss. "Pearl broke away from her mother, and, running to the brook, stopped over it, and bathed her forehead, until the unwelcome kiss was quite washed off" (136). Pearl flees from the comfort of her mother to the comfort of the brook. She trusts that the brook will rid her forehead of this mark left by her "dangerous rival" (136). This was odd because in the beginning Pearl willingly ran up to Dimmesdale and held his hands, but now receives a kiss from him and takes refuge in the brook. She has become cautious of him somehow through the experience that she has had within the dark forest and near the brook.
Nature is wild and unyielding, refusing to mold to the models humanity has built for it, and so has Pearl. Like the brook she refused to stop her incessant questions and babble about the scarlet letter or the unnatural gestures made by Dimmesdale under the cloak of darkness. She also stood her ground under scrutiny and insults that surrounded her life. Pearl became a part of the brook by sharing her hardships with it: "and the melancholy brook would add this other tale to the mystery with which its little heart was already overburdened..." (136). This unique relationship with the brook allowed Pearl to find refuge among her chaotic life and also helped bring perspective to her world. Pearl's relationship with the brook grew into a friendship in that it would listen to her tale. Pearl was able to wash her tale into the brook when she washed her forehead and thus the brook soaked up the tale and would whisper it as it went on its journey. The brook not only became a likeness of her, but a part of her.
Bode, Carl, ed. The Portable Emerson. New York: Penguin Books, 1981.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. T6 5L. A noton Critical Edition: Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter and Other Writings. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.
- Pearl in The Scarlet Letter
Interesting insight on the relationship of Pearl and Hester and how Pearl functions within the novel.
- The Character of Pearl
An interesting article that brings some insight on the character of Pearl and how she functions in the novel The Scarlet Letter.
Review of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The short list of great American novels includes Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. In this story, the consequences of Hester Prynne's adulterous affair with the reverend Arthur Dimmesdale are literally borne out as she gives birth to their ch