The Scarlet Letter

Describe the significance of light and dark and how it relates to Hester and pearl

Chapter 15/16

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The image of sunlight returns once more in this chapter, as Hester tries to catch a beam of sunlight for Pearl. Earlier in the novel, Hester stated that she could never offer Pearl sunlight—she had no more for her child. But now she has come full circle, enough to want to give her child light, and even enough to want to show off her child in an approving light. Yet, she cannot catch the light; the child is still without a true father. Pearl is still not at peace. At the same time, we see that Hester, by confessing and taking responsibility for her sin, has been able to heal.

When Pearl asks why Dimmesdale does not wear his letter on the outside of his clothes and keeps reaching for his heart, again we see that she senses the truth. Pearl asks this question repeatedly throughout the story, and Hester's failure to answer tends to lead to escalating rage in her daughter. But now, we sense that Pearl actually knows why, just as Hester seems unwilling to fight any more against hiding them. As long as Dimmesdale hides the truth from Pearl, his scarlet letter will burn deeper into his skin. He has traded the love of a child for his own self-preservation. Hester, by choosing her child over the superficial acceptance of the town, has earned the right to cast off the letter, something she now disdains, for she has grown fond of it, perhaps because it afforded her not only freedom from the guilt of sin but a kind of freedom from the mores of an overly stringent society.