In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the flower is an important motif and symbol. Hawthorne is able to symbolize a wide range of ideas using flowers because of the vast variety available in nature. At many points, he uses flowers to describe Pearl and her personality. The rose-bush in particular is strongly related to her. By using flowers and nature to describe her, Hawthorne reinforces Pearl’s wild and capricious nature.
When Pearl is first depicted in detail at the beginning of chapter 4, she is described as being “a lovely and immortal flower, [sprung] out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion” (61) and as possessing “wild-flower prettiness” (62). She is originally seen as a beautiful flower, a blessing created by a sin, similar to the way that the wild rose-bush mentioned in chapter one grows out of the soil in the shadow of a prison. However, her mother quickly realizes that she is also a mischievous punishment for her sins.
The idea that Pearl is a blessing and a curse relates her further to the rosebush at the beginning of the novel. The “wild rose-bush” offers “fragrance and fragile beauty to the prisoner[s]…and to the condemned criminal[s]” as a “token that the deep heart of Nature could pity and be kind to him” (34). Therefore, the rose-bush represents kindness and morality for the prisoners to rejoice in. However, seeing the beautiful blossoms may also have the opposite effect on prisoners and cause them to despair. They may see the freedom and beauty with which the rose-bush grows, and lament for their lack of freedom and unattractive prospects for their future. Thus, the rose-bush is a beautiful blessing and a mocking curse to the prisoners, similar to the way Pearl is a blessing and a curse to her mother.
Pearl is further connected with the rosebush when she jests about being “plucked by her mother off the bush of wild roses” that grows “by the prison door” (76). Pearl says this mischievously to the face of Reverend Wilson, showing an utter lack of respect for authority and demonstrating the wildness and freedom of her manner. Her manner is therefore similar to the wild rose-bush, which lives freely by its own accord. It seems as if Pearl’s personality has been figuratively “plucked” from the rosebush. Additionally, when she is in the governor’s mansion, Pearl begins to “cry for a red rose, and would not be pacified” (73). This shows her highly individualistic and capricious personality and relates her further to the rose-bush.
The use of flowers as symbols in The Scarlet Letter is something that has caught my attention time and time again while reading. I am especially interested in the manner in which the rose-bush and Pearl seem to be connected. I cannot wait to continue reading and see the other ways that Hawthorne uses flowers to contribute to the meaning of his novel.