top of page
  • Michael Rickard II

"Through a Pearl Darkly: Hester Prynne’s Id Channeled in Pearl."

In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne defies the Puritans’ draconian laws both by her passive resistance and by subconsciously channeling her id into her daughter Pearl, allowing Pearl to actively defy those who would persecute Hester and Pearl. Only when Reverend Dimmesdale reveals his identity as Hester’s lover is Hester able to resume control of her id, allowing Pearl to live as a normal child.

Hester Prynne defies the Puritans by following the letter of the law in affixing an “A” to her breast. However, she defies the spirit of the law by ornamenting it elaborately:

On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold-thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

While Hester must wear the “A” as punishment, she does so on her terms, defying society by using her embroidery skills to make it colorful and ornamental. Likewise, Hester also defies the Puritans with the way she dresses her daughter elegantly, in contrast to the Puritans’ drab style and color of clothing:

Her mother, with a morbid purpose that may be better understood hereafter, had bought the richest tissues that could be procured, and allowed her imaginative faculty its full play in the arrangement and decoration of the dresses which the child wore, before the public eye. So magnificent was the small figure, when thus arrayed, and such was the splendor of Pearl's own proper beauty, shining through the gorgeous robes which might have extinguished a paler loveliness, that there was an absolute circle of radiance around her, on the darksome cottage floor (82).

While Hester cannot defy Puritan society openly without risking her ability to keep Pearl, it is arguable Hester channels her id into Pearl, allowing Pearl to defy the Puritans openly (which shall be shown she does). Hawthorne’s description of Pearl shows her independent nature and active resistance to society. Pearl is a manifestation of Hester’s id, the psychological concept of, “one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that is completely unconscious and is the source of psychic energy derived from instinctual needs and drives” (“Id”). This is seen by Hawthorne’s description of Pearl:

The child could not be made amenable to rules. In giving her existence, a great law had been broken; and the result was a being whose elements were perhaps beautiful and brilliant, but all in disorder; or with an order peculiar to themselves, amidst which the point of variety and arrangement was difficult or impossible to be discovered…Above all, the warfare of Hester's spirit, at that epoch, was perpetuated in Pearl. She could recognize her wild, desperate, defiant mood, the flightiness of her temper, and even some of the very cloud-shapes of gloom and despondency that had brooded in her heart. (82-83).

Pearl is an outsider like her mother but she defies society’s condemnation. In Chapter Seven, Pearl charges the children who prepare to throw mud at her. When Minister Wilson asks Pearl who made her, in order to see if she is familiar with God, Pearl defies him with a whimsical answer, “that she had not been made at all, but had been plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses that grew by the prison-door” The text makes it clear that Pearl knows her Maker but is being mischievous “perversity which all children have more or less of, and of which little Pearl had a tenfold portion, now, at the most inopportune moment, took thorough possession of her” It is arguable Pearl carries a child’s unrestrained wants as well as her mother’s.

Only when Arthur Dimmesdale reveals his identity as Pearl’s father is Pearl able to end her role as Hester’s id. This is seen when Pearl kisses her dying father’s lips:

A spell was broken. The great scene of grief, in which the wild infant bore a part, had developed all her sympathies; and as her tears fell upon her father's cheek, they were the pledge that she would grow up amid human joy and sorrow, nor forever do battle with the world, but be a woman in it. Towards her mother, too, Pearl's errand as a messenger of anguish was all fulfilled.

Hester is now able to live her life independently, with no need to hide her defiance of the Puritans. Thus, Pearl lives as a normal child and Hester’s id returns to her. While the idea of Hester somehow transferring her id to Pearl may seem unrealistic, The Scarlet Letter suggests other supernatural elements including the mystery of the “A” on Dimmesdale’s breast and Mistress Hibbins’ witchcraft.

Works Cited

"Id." Merriam-Webster.

Accessed 28 Feb. 2017

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter(Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition). Penguin Classics;


17 views0 comments
bottom of page