Stage 4 (Sage): The Scarlet Letter, chapter 4

CHAPTER 4: PEARL

We have hardly spoken of the infant.

Hester called her Pearl not as a name expressive of her features, which had nothing pertaining to a calm lustre. She named the infant “Pearl” as being of great price —purchased with all she had — her mother’s only treasure!

God, as a direct consequence of the sin, had given her a lovely child! Yet these thoughts affected Hester Prynne less with hope than that of apprehension (1).

 

Day after day, she looked fearfully into the child’s expanding nature, dreading to detect some dark and wild peculiarity.

 

Certainly, there was no physical defect. The child had a native grace. Her mother, with a morbid purpose, had bought the richest tissues. So magnificent was the small figure, and such was her beauty, that there was an absolute circle of radiance around her.

 

Pearl’s aspect was imbued with a spell of infinite variety: in this one child there were many children, the full scope (2) between the wild-flower prettiness of a peasant-baby and the pomp of an infant princess. Throughout all, however, there was a trait of passion she never lost.

 

Her nature appeared to possess depth, too, as well as variety; but the child could not be made amenable (3) to rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; the result was a being whose elements were beautiful but in disorder.

 

Hester could only account for the child’s character by recalling what she herself had been. She could recognize her defiant mood, the flightiness of her temper and even some of the gloom in her heart.

 

The discipline of the family, in those days, was of a rigid kind, not merely for punishment but as a regimen for the growth and promotion of virtues. Hester sought to impose (4) a tender but strict control over the infant. The task, however, was beyond her skill. Hester was ultimately compelled to permit the child to be swayed by her own impulses.

 

Her mother grew acquainted (5) with a certain look. It was so intelligent, yet sometimes so malicious (6) that Hester could not help questioning, at such moments, whether Pearl was a human child. She seemed rather an airy sprite (7). Beholding it, Hester was inclined to rush towards the child, to snatch her to her bosom, not so much from overflowing love but to assure herself that Pearl was flesh and blood. Pearl’s laugh, when she was caught, made her mother even more doubtful.

 

Hester sometimes burst into tears. Pearl would frown, and harden her features into an unsympathizing look. Not seldom, she would laugh, unintelligent of human sorrow. Or —but this rarely happened—she would be sobbed out her love for her mother, in broken words, intented on proving that she had a heart.

 

Brooding (8) over all these matters, the mother felt her only real comfort was when the child lay asleep. Then she was sure of her; until little Pearl awoke!

 

How soon did Pearl arrive at an age capable of social discourse! And then what a happiness would it have been, could Hester Prynne have heard her clear voice mingling with other childish voices! But this could never be. Pearl was a born outcast. An imp (9) of evil, emblem (10) and product of sin, she had no right among christened infants. Nothing was more remarkable than the instinct with which the child comprehended her loneliness. Never, since her release from prison, had Hester met the public gaze without her. In all her walks about the town, Pearl, too, was there. Pearl saw, and gazed intently, but never sought to make acquaintance. If spoken to, she would not speak. If the children gathered about her, Pearl would grow terrible, snatching up stones to fling at them, with shrill, incoherent exclamations that made her mother tremble.

 

The little Puritans had got a vague idea of something outlandish in the mother and child; and therefore scorned (11) them. Pearl felt the sentiment, and requited (12) it with hatred. These outbreaks had a kind of value, and even comfort, for her mother; because there was at least an intelligible earnestness in the mood. It appalled her, nevertheless, to discern here a shadowy reflection of the evil that had existed in herself.

 

At home, the unlikeliest materials became adapted to whatever drama occupied the stage of Pearl’s inner world. Her one baby-voice served a multitude of imaginary personages. It was wonderful: the vast variety of forms into which she threw into her intellect. The singularity (13) lay in the hostile feelings with which the child regarded all these offsprings of her own heart and mind. She never created a friend, but seemed always to be sowing a harvest of armed enemies against whom she rushed to battle. It was inexpressibly sad to observe, in one so young, this constant recognition of an adverse (14) world.

 

Gazing at Pearl, Hester Prynne often cried out with agony -“O Father in Heaven, what is this being which I have brought into the world!” And Pearl would turn her beautiful little face upon her mother, smile with sprite-like intelligence, and resume her play.

 

One peculiarity of the child’s deportment (15) remains yet to be told. The very first thing which she had noticed was not the scarlet letter on Hester’s bosom! One day, as her mother stooped (16) over the cradle, the infant’s eyes had grasped at it, with a decided gleam. Gasping for breath, did Hester clutch the token, endeavouring (17) to tear it away; so crushing was the torture inflicted.

 

From that epoch, except when the child was asleep, Hester had never felt a moment’s safety.

 

Once, Hester fancied not her own miniature portrait, but another face in  Pearl’s eye. It was a face, fiend-like. It was as if an evil spirit possessed the child, and had peeped forth in mockery.

 

In the afternoon of a certain summer’s day, after Pearl grew big enough to run about, she amused herself with gathering  wild-flowers, and flinging them at her mother’s bosom; dancing whenever she hit the scarlet letter. Hester’s first motion had been to cover her bosom. But, whether from pride or resignation, she resisted the impulse, and sat, looking sadly into little Pearl’s wild eyes. At last, her shots being all expended (18), the child stood still and gazed at Hester.

 

“Child, what art thou?”

“O, I am your little Pearl!”

But, while she said it, Pearl laughed and began to dance.

“Art thou my child, in very truth?” Nor did she put the question altogether idly, but, with a genuine earnestness.

“Yes; I am little Pearl!”

“Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!” said the mother, half playfully. “Tell me, then, what thou art, and who sent thee here?”

“Tell me, mother!” said the child, seriously, coming up to Hester, and pressing herself close to her knees.

“Thy Heavenly Father sent thee!” But she said it with a hesitation that did not escape the child.

“He did not send me! I have no Heavenly Father!”

“Hush, Pearl, hush! Thou must not talk so!” answered the mother, suppressing a groan. “He sent us all into the world. Or, if not, where didst thou come from?”

“Tell me! Tell me!” repeated Pearl, no longer seriously, but laughing.

 

But Hester could not resolve the query (19), being herself in a dismal labyrinth (20) of doubt. She remembered the talk of the neighbouring townspeople who, had given out that Pearl was a demon offspring.

 


 

+GLOSSARY

1/apprehension(n): fear that something horrible is going to happen

2/scope(n): a spectrum; a range

3/amenable(adj): suitable; describing a person who can be easily persuaded and controlled

4/impose(v): to force somebody to do something, to strongly encourage

5/acquaint(v): to become accustomed to

6/malicious(adj): spiteful, intending to do harm

7/sprite(n): an elf, a fairy

8/brood(v): to think deeply about something

9/imp(n): a mischievous child, with a devil-like nature

10/emblem(n): a symbol

11/scorn(v): to feel and express contempt and disgust for

12/requit(v): to return a favor/service with payment

13/singularity(n): an exception

14/adverse(adj): unfavorable, preventing one from succeeding

15/deportment(n): behavior, nature

16/stoop(v): to bend one’s body forward, as if over something

17/endeavor(v): to try to do something with great effort

18/expend(v): to use up, to be out of

19/query(n): a question, a difficult dilemma to be solved

20/labyrinth(n): a maze that is difficult to find one’s way out of

 

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