In The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Margaret Moore comments
upon Hawthorne's sympathy toward and admiration
of women, as shown in his treatment of Hester Prynne.
In her lecture "Hawthorne and 'the sphere of ordinary womanhood,'"
Melinda Ponder considers the relationships with women
from Hawthorne's personal life that influenced his treatment of
female characters in fiction.
In "Hawthorne and 'the sphere of ordinary womanhood,'" Ponder also
looks at the experiences of Hawthorne's mother
and how they influenced his shaping of Hester's character.
In her lecture "Work and Money in Hawthorne's Fiction," Claudia Johnson
remarks on Hester's role as an artist and the guilt
both she and Hawthorne feel from taking pleasure in their artistic creations.
In his lecture "The Meanings of Hawthorne's Women," Richard Millington suggests
that Hawthorne's "heroic women," such as Hester
Prynne, explore the possibility of an ethical life through both engagement
with the community and challenges to its values.
In the essay "Discord in Concord: National Politics and Literary Neighbors"
in Hawthorne and Women, Claudia Durst Johnson draws connections between
Hester Prynne and Christie Devon, the protagonist
of Louisa May Alcott's novel Work.
In the essay "'Such a Hopeless Task Before Her: Some Observations on the
Fiction of Hawthorne and Gilman" in Hawthorne and Women, Denise D.
Knight links the author and feminist Charlotte Perkins
Gilman to Hawthorne's Hester Prynne.
In the essay " Bourgeois Sexuality and the Gothic Plot in Wharton and Hawthorne"
in Hawthorne and Women, Monika Elbert links Hester Prynne to Gothic
elements in The Scarlet Letter and explores how Hawthorne
desexes Hester by making her "shadowlike" and ghostly.
In an 1850 review of The Scarlet Letter in The Saturday Visiter
(reprinted in Hawthorne and Women), Jane Swisshelm praises the character
of Hester Prynne, highlighting her strength and
her moral stature.
In another 1850 review of The Scarlet Letter that appeared in the
Massachusetts Quarterly Review (reprinted in The Recognition of
Nathaniel Hawthorne), George Bailey Loring also praises Hester's
strength and her superiority to those around her.
Nina Baym, in her essay "Thwarted Nature: Nathaniel Hawthorne as Feminist"
in American Novelists Revisited: Essays in Feminist Criticism, explores
Hester's role as a mother and the way it empowers
her and redefines her in the novel.
Criticism Related to Pearl
Excerpts from chapters from Understanding The Scarlet Letter: A Student Casebook
to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents by Claudia Durst Johnson (courtesy
of Greenwood Press)
In "A Literary Analysis of The Scarlet Letter" (pp. 4-6, 8), Johnson
explores how Pearl and her reactions to the scarlet
letter clarify the meaning of the symbol. "Creativity, passion, and joy"
as well as nature, truth and honesty are elements that embody the letter A
as shown by Pearl's behavior, curiosity, and personality. Unlike Pearl, the
elders of the community see the letter as "red and devilish."
In "A Literary Analysis of The Scarlet Letter" (pp. 17-19), Johnson
indicates that Pearl recognizes Chillingworth's connection
with Satan and that Pearl (despite her Satanical reputation) is not physical
deformed like Chillingworth but beautiful. Johnson insists Pearl is not a
daughter of Satan.
In "The Scarlet Letter and the Puritans,"
"Crime and Punishment," and "Issues in the 1980's and the 1990's" (pp. 36-37,
76-77, 200-202), Johnson reveals how the powerful political and religious
figures try to control where Hester and Pearl live and who should have custody
of the child.
Johnson discusses in "Crime and Punishment"
how Pearl is in defiance of the Puritanical laws which deny "mirth," "independent
thinking," and "sexuality."
In "Issues in the 1980's and 1990's," Johnson
indicates that contrary to what powerful Puritanical authorities believe
that Pearl "saves Hester from abandoning herself to the darkest elements
of human nature."
Also in "Issues in the 1980's and 1990's,"
Johnson also cites several recent custody cases that show how today's
courts still decide on who is the most fit custodian of a child.
In "The Scarlet Letter and the Puritans"
(pp.39-40) Johnson describes how Hester and Pearl are always outside civilization
on the edge of the wilderness and how this causes Pearl to be wild and "uncontrollable."
Excerpts from chapters from Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne by
Melissa McFarland Pennell (courtesy of Greenwood
In "Hawthorne's Career and Contributions" (p.
21) Pennell describes how critics have connected Hester and Pearl to Sethe
and Denver in Toni Morrison's novel Beloved, with significant differences.
All four live as outcasts, and both children are "a source of pain and comfort"
to their mothers.
In "The Scarlet Letter" (p. 74) Pennell
contrasts Hester's drab outfits with Pearl's blood red clothes, suggesting
that Pearl "is a living version of the letter." Like Johnson, Pennell demonstrates
how the "A" has multiple interpretations.
In "The Scarlet Letter" (pp. 77-78) Pennell
paints a portrait of Pearl, "the most complex character of the romance." She
highlights Pearl's name, her supposed connection to Satan, her spontaneity
and mischievousness, and her isolation and truthfulness, both disconnecting
her from the Puritan values and community.
In "The Scarlet Letter" (p. 82) Pennell
explains how thematically Nature plays a complex role in The Scarlet Letter;
specifically, Pennell shows nature both as comfort to lonely Pearl and a reflection
or mirror of Pearl's untamed, "heathen" spirit.
In "The Scarlet Letter" (p. 83) Pennell,
like Johnson (above) explores Pearl's symbolic relationship to and fascination
with the letter A, whether it is scarlet or a natural green.
In "The Scarlet Letter" (pp. 85-86)) Pennell
explores feminist criticism of the The Scarlet Letter as it relates
to the propriety of Hester's custody of Pearl, which is challenged in the
scene at the governor's mansion. Pennell reveals an enduring relationship
between Hester and Pearl. Hester can openly love her daughter and find purpose
in her life through raising her daughter. Pearl finds a strong role model
in her mother.
In "The Scarlet Letter" (p. 72-73) Pennell
shows how Hawthorne casts Pearl in the role of forcing Hester and Dimmesdale
to face the reality of their situation as they taste freedom in the forest
scene. In the second scaffold scene Pearl confronts Dimmesdale, saying, "Thou
wast not true." In the final scaffold scene, Dimmesdale publicly acknowledges
Hester and Pearl while confiding that their sufferings "served God's purpose."
In "The Scarlet Letter" (p. 80) Pennell
demonstrates how Dimmesdale relates to Pearl as a minister not a father.
Excerpts from Hawthorne and Women: Engendering and Expanding the Hawthorne
Tradition edited by John L. Idol, Jr. and Melinda M. Ponder (courtesy of University
of Massachusetts Press)
Jane Swisshelm, in her review of The Scarlet Letter published in
The Saturday Visiter in 1850 (pp. 289-291), describes Pearl as "a wild,
fitful, impulsive little sprite" (289) who is obsessively attracted to Hester's
scarlet letter and cruelly shunned by the contemptuous Puritans.
Swisshelm summarizes the final scaffold scene and Pearl's future in a former
Finally, Swisshelm mocks Hawthorne's suggestion that Pearl was sent to punish
her sinning mother. She suggests Hester deserves all respect while "it would
scarce be worth while throwing a mud-ball at the best of [the other characters]"