Allegorical Meaning: Rejoicing in Salvation
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The exquisitely beautiful, fourteenth-century, Middle English dream vision Pearl can be interpreted as an allegory. Several literary scholars certainly have seen the Pearl-Maiden as an allegorical figure, interpreting her variously as a representation of maidenhood or virginity,1 the Dreamer’s own soul,2 the Dreamer’s own soul in mystical union with Christ (qua sponsa Christi),3 the Dreamer’s regenerate soul, eternal life, and/or beatitude,4 the Dreamer’s lost innocence,5 the perfectly innocent (that is, the members of the Church to be included in the celestial process of the 144,000),6 an angel,7 and “the image of Heaven, instructing him [the Dreamer] in Christian doctrine. His yearning for her is at once a human inclination and a manifestation of the divine within him.”8 J.R.R. Tolkien, who firmly believed the poem to be an elegy that emerged from the life experience of the poet,9 still acknowledged the existence of allegorical aspects to Pearl. He saw the Pearl-Maiden as the “spirit of celestial charity.”10 He also noted that while the poem is not a complete allegory, like the Romance of the Rose or the Vision of Piers Plowman, nevertheless there are “minor allegories within Pearl,”11 such as the Parable of the Laborer in the Vineyard and the opening stanza itself, in which the pearl, slipping from the Dreamer’s hand and into the grass, represents the death and burial of the beloved Pearl-Maiden.