The Scarlet Letter | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Chapter 6 | Pearl

Course Hero's video study guide provides in-depth summary and analysis of chapter 6 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter.

The Scarlet Letter | Chapter 6 : Pearl | Summary



Hawthorne reveals that Hester named her daughter Pearl because of the great price at which she was born. Pearl is beautiful but wild. Hester has so much trouble getting her daughter to follow the rules that she even wonders whether the child is human or "an airy sprite." While Hester submits to the scorn of others, Pearl throws violent tantrums. Hester has taught Pearl her catechism, so the child knows the basics of the Puritan religion.


This chapter explores the difficult and complex relationship between mother and daughter, the mixture of love, worry, and sense of responsibility that Hester feels. Hester dresses Pearl in finery, in part to indulge the girl and in part to thumb her nose at society. The narrator suggests that she dotes a bit on Pearl. While explaining that Puritan parents frequently administered "rebukes" and "the rod" to impose discipline and correct behavior, the narrator notes that Hester "ran little risk of erring on the side of undue severity." Pearl, born of passion, is passionate, and Hester recognizes herself in that quality, but she also fears that her daughter will develop "some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency" that she herself felt. When Pearl shows her temper, Hester clutches her to her breast "not so much from overflowing love, as to assure herself that Pearl was flesh and blood."

Like her mother, Pearl is an "outcast." She has no playmates, no child companions. In fact she shuns them: if any children approach her, she throws stones at them to chase them off. The narrator ascribes this attitude to anger at the scorn heaped on her and her mother. Mother and daughter have no one but each other.

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