“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!”

This quote, taken from Chapter 16, “A Forest Walk,” is illustrative of the role Pearl plays in the text. It is also a meditation on the significance of the scarlet letter as a symbol and an exposition of the connection between sin and humanness—one of the novel’s most important themes.

Pearl is frequently aware of things that others do not see, and here she presciently identifies the scarlet letter on her mother’s bosom with the metaphorical (and in this case also literal) lack of sunshine in her mother’s life. Because she is just a child, Pearl often does not understand the ramifications of the things she sees. She frequently reveals truths only indirectly by asking pointed questions. These queries make her mother uncomfortable and contribute to the text’s suspense. Here Pearl is assuming, as children often do, that her mother is representative of all adults. Her question suggests that she thinks that all grown women wear a scarlet letter or its equivalent. Surely, Pearl has noticed that the other women in town don’t wear scarlet letters. But, on a more figurative level, her question suggests that sin—that which the scarlet letter is intended to represent—is an inevitable part of being a mature human being.