The colony survived, but over time its religious fervor diminished. Scholars disagree about when and why this happened. The Puritans themselves found it difficult to maintain a society in a state of creative uncertainty. In 1679, a Puritan synod met to deliberate the causes of widespread spiritual malaise. Blame was assigned to an increase in swearing; a tendency to sleep at sermons; the spread of sex and alcohol, especially in taverns, where women were known to bare their arms and, upon occasion, even their breasts; and, most telling, the marked increase in lying and lawsuits.
Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl is a sort of living version of her mother’s scarlet letter. She is the physical consequence of sexual sin and the indicator of a transgression. Yet, even as a reminder of Hester’s “sin,” Pearl is more than a mere punishment to her mother: she is also a blessing. She represents not only “sin” but also the vital spirit and passion that engendered that sin. Thus, Pearl’s existence gives her mother reason to live, bolstering her spirits when she is tempted to give up. It is only after Dimmesdale is revealed to be Pearl’s father that Pearl can become fully “human.” Until then, she functions in a symbolic capacity as the reminder of an unsolved mystery.