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The Aspects of Transcendentalism in The Scarlet Letter

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The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a story based on the punishment of sin, exclusively, adultery. During this time Hawthorne was moved by the transcendentalist ideas and beliefs, which is evident in his work. The story analyzes Hester Prynn’s committed sin of adultery and the hardships she faced in the Puritan society. Hester went through many hard times; however, nothing could compare to the joy she felt when looking at her daughter, Pearl. Pearl is a young and bright character who serves as a symbol of her mom’s mistakes. However, Hester did not view Pearl as a mistake, but as a blessing. Throughout the novel, Pearl is a direct representation of how a transcendentalist child should be raised, without strict society driven rules, in touch with nature and independent.

Transcendentalism is a way of life, not a religion. It is based around the idea that everyone, men, women, and children are all equal and in touch with nature. In this belief, there are not any strict guidelines or religious entities to follow. While Puritanism is based around strict laws regarding God, transcendentalists believe that God is so much bigger than rules or laws. Their God is so big and mighty that a human’s mind cannot fathom around the idea of him and that there is more to life and God than one can reason with through human knowledge. Transcendentalists strived for independence and truly knowing one’s self through nature. This is exactly how Pearl is represented throughout the novel. The transcendentalists believed children should be raised, not on the strict Puritan beliefs, scared of being outcasts by their mistakes, but to make sense of the material world and beauty through nature.

Since being outcasted, Hester had to raise Pearl on her own. While this was difficult, Hester was able to raise Pearl the way any transcendentalist would. Pearl was a strong, smart independent girl with her own views of the world. With this being said, Hester never made Pearl conform to the Puritan society. In fact, she encouraged Pearl to think on her own and never gave her strict rules or laws. In chapter ten, Chillingworth commented on the lack of rules in Pearls life. He stated, “There is no law, nor reverence for authority, no regard for human ordinance or opinions, right or wrong mixed up with that child’s composition.” Pearl shocked Chillingworth because a Puritan child should not be raised like her, they should be raised follow all of the rules set forth by society and never think for thereselves. However, this is exactly how a transcendentalist child should be raised; free-spirited and to love one’s self.

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Another way Pearl is the ideal transcendentalist child, is because of how in touch with nature she is. The transcendentalists believe that to be in touch with nature, is to be in touch with one’s inner self. Throughout the novel, Pearl is referred to as nature. For example, in chapter fifteen, Pearl has a green A on her chest, similar to the red A on her mother’s. This green A, she put on herself with “eel-grass” is a symbol of human life with nature. This shows how Pearl is not weighted down by the Puritan ideology. Also, in chapter eighteen, while, Hester and Dimmesdale are speaking in the woods, Pearl is wandering off and doing her own thing. The narrator states, “The mother-forest and these wild things which it nourished, all recognized a kindred wilderness in the human child.” This quote is a perfect example of how pearl is in touch with the natural world, so much so that a forest can recognize it. A true transcendentalist would be proud of Pearl, especially in these moments as she is truly in touch with nature.

Since Pearl was had out of marriage, she and her mother were exiled form the Puritan church. Because of her mother’s sin, they were outcasts. Outcasted from the town, friends, and the church. They are not allowed to anyone’s home or into the community unless Hester is doing charity for others. This has led Hester and Pearl to be alone most of their lives. Because of this Pearl has been raised to be independent. Transcendentalists argued that being able to be alone and think for one’s self is to be with God. Being outcasted gave Pearl an advantage that the other Puritan children did not have; the ability to think for herself and be free-spirited. So, while the Puritans thought they were punishing Pearl and Hester by shunning them, they were actually doing Pearl a favor, by giving her ample time to be alone with nature.

This novel is a dark perception into what life was like as a Puritan during these times. It was hard and it seemed as everyone had secrets, even the leaders and most Godly people of the community. This is why Hawthorne was moved by the ideas of transcendentalism. He believed that there was more to life than living in fear and going day to day following rules of a society. In his novel, The Scarlet Letter, he gives us just a glimpse into the life of a Puritan. His main character Hester has to go through hard times for her sins. However, out of her sin she got the greatest gift she could have gotten, her daughter Pearl. Pearl is a huge character in the book that is a constant reminder of Hester’s sin. But not only that, she is an ideal child of transcendentalism because of her all knowingness, touch with nature, and independence. I believe that Pearl was raised exactly how any transcendentalist would agree with.

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