The father-daughter relationship has typically represented one of the strongest bonds of humanity. Generally, this familial bond is so strong that it can outlast even the most daunting of obstacles. However, sometimes strange circumstances can affect this relationship. Such is the case of Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale and his daughter Pearl in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Even though Dimmesdale refuses to acknowledge Pearl as his daughter, the pair is emotionally bound nonetheless. The first moment of bonding occurs as Hester is forced to stand on the scaffold and endure the public humiliation of bearing a child out of wedlock.
Ironically, it is Dimmesdale to whom “the responsibility of this woman’s soul lies…” (Hawthorne, 1991, p. 66). After all, she is there because of him. When Pearl hears her father’s voices, she is immediately attracted to its sound. As Dimmesdale attempts to evoke a confession from her mother, the infant Pearl “directed it’s hitherto vacant gaze towards Mr. Dimmesdale, with a half-pleased, half-plaintive murmer” (p.
67). This movement indicates the instinctive recognition of the infant for her father. Dimmesdale clearly recognizes it, and this moment marks the beginning of his descent into guilt.
His refusal seems to prompt the infant to “pierce the air with its wailings and screams” (p. 68) as she appears to react sadly or angrily to this denial. The second defining moment occurs years later. Dimmesdale must intervene to make sure that Pearl is not taken from Hester. Hester has implored him to do so, adding that it is his responsibility in more ways than one: “…thou knowest me better than these men can! Speak for me! ” (p. 98) Understanding her undertones, Dimmesdale complies. After he has convinced the Governor that Pearl should remain with Hester, Pearl shows to him and uncharacteristic touch of tenderness.
She “stole softly towards him, and, taking his hand in the grasp of her own, laid her cheek against it,…” which prompted him to lay ‘his hand on the child’s head” and then “kissed her brow” (pp. 99-100). Even Hester is amazed at the display of affection from her daughter, prompting her to ask “Is that my Pearl? ” (p. 100). She is unused to this tenderness from her child, and in this unusual display, it becomes apparent to the reader that both Pearl and Dimmesdale are feeling more than the mere relationship between a minister and a parishioner.
Later yet, Dimmesdale and his Pearl bring their relationship to words albeit under the cover of night. As he is silently atoning for his sin upon the scaffold, he invites Hester and Pearl to join him. Holding her hand, Dimmesdale is overcome with at “strange joy” (Hawthorne, 1991, p. 125). However, he is not yet able to agree to her demand to publicly acknowledge their relationship the next day at noon. Although Pearl is asking him to appear with them as a family, his guilt forces him to refuse.
Even though she is too young to understand his denial then, when Pearl is seven, she is old enough to understand Dimmesdale’s refusals. At their forest meeting, her petulant and obstinate behavior underscores the hurt she feels because of this. She wipes off his kiss after he once again refuses to “…go back with us, hand in hand, we three together, into the town” (p. 166). As is usually the case, the mother must comfort the child by reminding her that one day “We shall have a home and a fireside of our own; and thou shalt sit upon his knee; and he will teach thee many things, and love thee dearly” (p. 66).
However, as if not believing her mother, Pearl refuses to admit her love for him at this point. It appears that Pearl is waiting for Dimmesdale to admit to everyone that she is his daughter. Their relationship is finally made public, as he calls her to him during the holiday parade, and she “…flew to him, and clasp her arms around his knees” (Hawthorne, 1991, p. 193). He finally is able to speak to his daughter as every father should. He says, “dear little Pearl, wilt thou kiss me now? ” (p. 196). Of course she complies, overjoyed at the admission of her father.
The beautiful scene is played out as “her tears fell upon her father’s cheeks…” (p. 196). Unfortunately, the physical bonding occurs too late; Dimmesdale perishes, leaving Hester and Pearl to continue alone. Even if the physical bond is denied, an emotional bond will always exist between a father and a daughter. As Dimmesdale and Pearl demonstrate in The Scarlet Letter, this relationship is ultimately undeniable by either party. By refusing to acknowledge this bond, Pearl and Dimmesdale are not able to continue their relationship.