The Scarlet Letter Chapter 6 Summary

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

In Chapter 6 of ''The Scarlet Letter'', we discover Hester Prynne's thoughts and worries about her daughter Pearl. The little girl not only is an outcast in their town, but also behaves strangely with her mother - so oddly at times, that even her own mother finds Pearl's actions unsettling.

A Beautiful Child

Pearl's quick mind and lovely features delight her mother, even though the little girl is the result of a passion society considers shameful. For Hester Prynne, nothing is more valuable than Pearl, who is so named for being 'her mother's only treasure.' Hester's beautiful child counters the ugliness that the 'A' on her bosom represents. Knowing that her adulterous act was a sin, Hester fears that as her daughter grows, Pearl will reveal some indication of the evil that brought her into the world.

Nevertheless, no flaw is visible on Pearl. In fact, besides being beautiful, the girl is unusually graceful, and always fancifully dressed: Hester creates magnificent outfits for her little girl to wear outside their home. Inside, in a tattered, brown dress, Pearl is still every bit as lovely. In every aspect of her appearance, there is something to marvel at - just as there is in her mind.

A Misfit Child

Possessing a complicated personality, and despite her young age, Pearl obeys her own rules. She is not orderly, and reveals no desire to conform. These traits remind Hester of herself when she was awaiting her daughter's birth. In a child, Hester reflects, such traits might be tolerable, but in the adult Pearl will one day become, her unruliness would not be socially acceptable.

As impulsive as Pearl might be, Hester finds it impossible to be a stern mother. Since infancy, Pearl has had an expression that comes into her dark eyes, which makes Hester wonder if the child is even human. The look makes Hester think of her daughter as 'an airy sprite.' When that look appears, Hester grabs Pearl and holds her tightly, kissing her, trying to convince herself that her child really is human, and will not fly away - but when she hears Pearl's oddly gleeful laugh, Hester wonders if the girl is in fact a sprite after all.

Hester - puzzled by her daughter but filled with love for her - often begins to cry as she observes Pearl. Seeing her mother's tears, the child acts in various ways depending on her mood. Pearl might grimace and make a fist, start to laugh, or begin to sob along with her mother. Hester knows she cannot control little Pearl. It is only when Pearl sleeps that Hester can relax and truly be happy in her daughter's presence.

During the day, when mother and daughter go into town, Puritan children often shout insults at them, sensing that the pair do not fit in. Hester feels Pearl's isolation. The girl is a misfit and always has been, viewed with the same contempt her mother has to endure. Pearl must listen to the Puritan children's hurtful words or watch from a distance as they gather in groups on grassy patches, pretending to whip Quakers, scalp Indians, or practice witchcraft. Sometimes, emboldened, the group of children approach Pearl. Infuriated, the little girl picks up rocks to throw at the Puritan children, shrieking and making odd noises that, to Hester's horror, have the ring of a witch's curses.

Back home again, Pearl creates imaginary playmates. She pretends the dark trees by her house are old Puritans, and the weeds beneath are their children, which she gleefully pulls up and destroys. Foes are all that Pearl imagines, never friends, a fact that deeply saddens her mother.

A Mysterious Child

Even as an infant, Pearl had saddened and perplexed her mother. The first thing Pearl noticed as a baby was not her mother's face, but the bright red and gold of Hester's 'A.' Pearl grabbed it, and Hester, shocked, tried to move it out of reach. The baby smiled at her mother in a way that unnerved Hester - and had ever since, whenever Pearl stared at the red letter. In fact, looking into Pearl's eyes, Hester sometimes feared that an 'evil spirit possessed the child.'

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