The Scarlet Letter is a novel that explores both sin and the moral values it infers between man and God. Written by Nathaniel Hawthorne and published in 1850, The Scarlet Letter takes place in early Puritan Boston. The Puritan faith strongly emphasized moral values and strictly governed the people. Throughout the course of the novel, Nathaniel Hawthorne shapes Pearl's character in a way that serves as a living symbol of the sins committed by Hester and Dimmesdale, and in a similar fashion as the scarlet letter itself.
Inherently, Pearl already is the most prominent piece of evidence of the adultery, as everyone in the town associates her with the vile, putrid sins they see Hester and Dimmesdale as committing. When the prominent men in town discuss whether Pearl should be taken from her mother and put into what they think is better care, they use a tone that suggests inadequacy, or a poorer standard of existence, perhaps.
Out of context, one may perceive them to even speak of an animal, let alone a living, breathing human child, just as worthy of every ounce of respect that any other person should draw.
Even the young children of Boston know that it is Pearl's mother who shoulders the scarlet letter, and for that they reject her as a public outcast and social inferior. Though they may not completely understand why the community shuns Pearl and her mother, the children blindly accept this fact nonetheless. This fact highlights another supporting theme of The Scarlet Letter: society acts as rails upon which persons in that society, lacking the full-confidence required to think independently, must travel on. Publicly accepted estimations of a person or group's worth are sightlessly transmitted and received by followers in society.
Aside from the innate connotation that Pearl, the child of an adulteress, bears, Hawthorne furthered the tinge by actually developing her character in a way that highlights and reflects the sin that brought her into being. Pearl is the character that is most in tune with nature, as displayed when she is in the forest and plays with the plants and trees. She even manages to interact with a squirrel and his nut in a playful manner. However innocent this may seem, one must keep in mind that the forest is a place of evil in society's eyes; it is where the witches and the black man congregate; it is the origin of society's problems. In effect, Pearl's link to the forest may seem to highlight a positive side to this "little imp", but in actuality it only supports her wicked undercurrent.
When Hester first receives her sentence to wear the scarlet letter on her chest, the entire town viewed it as symbolic of one thing: adultery; an immoral crime that depreciated her value as a person. Up to the point when Hester leaves Boston, the "A" upon her breast had come to almost represent "able" in reference to her ability to offer aid to the elderly and sick, or "artist" as an indication of her unique, masterful ability with needle and thread. Just as the meaning of the "A" varies through the novel, Pearl's character also develops and changes immensely through the tale's sequence of events. Throughout the majority of her childhood, Pearl seems to be searching for her father. Hester goes so far as to tell her that she will never know an earthly father, but will have to wait until she has a heavenly father. As she matures into an adult, she abandons her childhood belief that she has simply been picked off a rosebush and comes to terms with her illegitimacy. Only then is she able to fully bloom into a life free of the preconceptions regarding her past and plant the seed of her own life.
The letter and Pearl often serve similar purposes as put forth by Hawthorne. For example, both are products of the sin of Hester and Dimmesdale and keep the sinners in constant remembrance of the act. Dimmesdale accepts both Pearl and the letter privately, but in public, society dictates that he denounce their value. And perhaps one of the most obvious similarities is their color; the letter is red and Pearl often takes pride in adorning herself in scarlet garments.
In sum, Hawthorne fully succeeded in crafting Pearl's character as a mirrored reflection of the scarlet letter and its associated meanings. His novel, The Scarlet Letter, is abound with symbolic mechanisms, many of which support this relationship between Pearl and the letter. It is in this way that Pearl and the letter can be viewed as two versions of the same symbolic device, both contrived by the same sinful act.