, Research Paper
Nathaniel Hawthorne has a very unique and distinct style of romantic writing. He uses various techniques to develop his stories, characters, and situations. He also incorporates his own life experiences into his novels and shows aspects of himself through characters. One specific novel that Hawthorne portrays himself into a character is The Scarlet Letter.
Hawthorne has led a very difficult life. He was born in the infamous town of Salem, Massachusetts where the Salem Witch Trials took place. The date he was born was the fourth of July, Independence Day, in 1804. Hawthorne was not proud of his family. He was born into wealth but infamy, as his descendents were judges in the Salem Witch Trials. One of Nathaniel?s descendents, William, who lived in the 1630?s, was described as, ?grave, bearded, sable-cloaked, and steeple-crowned,? by Hawthorne (Geritano, 1). His son John, was such a judge against witchcraft that the blood of the witches was stained upon him (Geritano, 1). The shame did not stop there for Hawthorne. His grandfather, ?Bold Daniel Hathorne? belonged to the town of Salem during the Revolutionary War and was a brave naval captain (Geritano, 1). His ancestors also fought the Indians for land. If anything, Nathaniel Hawthorne was incredibly ashamed of his family and it?s history. In fact, he was not even born Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was born Nathaniel Hathorne. He intentionally changed his name to get away from his family?s terrible history.
One of the only non-judge members of the Hathorne family was his father who was a sea captain. When Hawthorne was four years old, he died of fever very far from home.
Hawthorne was not as decisive as his forefathers. He didn?t know what he wanted to be but he knew that he ?didn?t want to be a doctor and live by men?s diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels? (Geritano, 1). The only thing he saw left, was to be an author. This all said after he attended four years at Bowdoin College which his uncle paid for. After college he lived in his mother?s house for twelve years, in a desolate Salem village, writing various novels, stories, and poems. Some of which were published, and others were thrown out by Hawthorne himself.
The fist book Hawthorne published was called Fanshawe but it wasn?t published under the name Nathaniel Hawthorne, it was published anonymously. When Hawthorne saw that the book was not doing well on the book shelves, he recalled every copy he could and burned them (Geritano, 2). This showed his immaturity at being a writer. Would he grow out of it? Some might say he never did.
Hawthorne traveled a lot. He always kept a notebook to write things down. From this notebook, he published his first collection called Twice- Told Tales. By that time Hawthorne was 32 years old and had a wife, Sophia, to support. While realizing his new responsibilities of family, Hawthorne moved out of his mother?s house and went to work as the surveyor of the port of Salem Custom House? (Telgen, 307). This is the same Custom House which he describes in the beginning of The Scarlet Letter. When the political party he followed lost power, Hawthorne was thrown out of position. Four years later Hawthorne?s mother passed away and he began to write again beginning his most famous work, The Scarlet Letter.
After the success of The Scarlet Letter, people, including himself, began to take Hawthorne serious. He started to write more and more and his novels were romantic and fantastically written. He spend about seven years in Europe and wrote a biography for Franklin Pierce. He was rewarded by being appointed the United States Consul at Liverpool, England (Hawthorne, x). While on a trip with Pierce in 1864, the ill and depressed Hawthorne died in his sleep in Plymouth, New Hampshire (Hawthorne, xi).
Hawthorne?s most successful novel was definitely The Scarlet Letter. The story is about adultery, secrets, and guilt. I believe that in this novel, Hawthorne reflects himself through the character of the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.
One way that I see Hawthorne through the character of Dimmesdale is the extreme guilt they both feel. Hawthorne?s guilt is that of his family?s. He is ashamed and feels guilty of all the pain, suffering, and death that his ancestors (as judges) have caused upon people who may have been innocent. Dimmesdale has also caused pain. He has caused pain upon his only love, Hester Prynne. He feels guilt for that. They committed adultery and Hester took all the blame for it. Dimmesdale even had to interrogate her. But he does feel guilt for what he has done.
??Hester,? said he, ?hast thou found peace?? She smiled drearily, looking down upon her bosom.
?Hast thou?? she asked.
?None — nothing but despair!? he answered. ?What else could I look for, being what I am, and leading such a life as mine??? (Hawthorne, 210).
This quote shows how intensely Dimmesdale has suffered as he admits it to Hester. He also feels guilt for Pearl, their daughter, and has begun to dislike little children as seen in this quote when Hester asks if Dimmesdale would like to meet Pearl (page 224-225):
“?Dost thou think the child will be glad to know me?? asked the minister, somewhat uneasily. ?I have long shrunk from children, because they often show a distrust — a backwardness to be familiar with me. I have even been afraid of little Pearl!?
It?s also said of the last scaffold scene that Dimmesdale revealed his guilt to all and then died. He gave himself a final relief of guilt. Although Hawthorne did this earlier in his life, he relieved himself of guilt also; he changed his name from Hathorne to Hawthorne.
Another reason why I think Dimmesdale portrays Nathaniel Hawthorne is because of Dimmesdale?s profession as a minister. As stated as above, Hawthorne didn?t want to be a minister because he didn?t want to live by other people?s sins. Well Dimmesdale is a minister and the hardships of being a minister are shown, especially when he has to live with his own grief and sins. It boils up inside him until it bursts. Hawthorne shows how this is not what he wanted to turn out to be and he in a sense makes the profession look bad. So, although Hawthorne is portrayed by Dimmesdale, in essence he might be considered a foil also.
A big problem of Hawthorne?s was that he was basically his own worst critic. During his younger years, if displeased by book sales, he would recall all the copies of a book and burn them. This could be his immaturity as a writer as I said above but it could also just be his inability to cope with failure. Hawthorne might have been a perfectionist in a way. He didn?t want to be misrepresented by bad novels. So if the people didn?t like it, he didn?t like it (Swisher, 62).
You might say Dimmesdale has a similar problem. He himself is not his only critic (as Hester is one also) but he is his worst critic and enemy. He lets the guilt eat him up inside and can?t do a thing about it. He knows he is not a respectable person as he lets Hester take all the blame for their affair but he does nothing about it for about seven years. He knows how horrible he is but he can?t bring himself to be disgraced by the Puritan community since it is considered such a sin. However he also knows that Hester Prynne will never turn him in. The only other person possible to turn him in would be Chillingworth, who would rather see him suffer than be killed. In essence, his sin wears him down. He ages, and part of that is from Chillingworth but I believe it is his disgusting sin that hurts him deep down. The sin of adultery will kill him. And he knows that. That is why he is his own worst enemy. Hester thinks he is a good man who just can?t admit to be an adulterist. In his heart, Dimmesdale knows he is terrible and in the end, he can?t live with himself anymore.
In conclusion, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a great American novelist. He wrote many books and survived a tough period (Puritanism). His novels inspired many people, and the romance has affected many also. He uses techniques that some may say have never been better than from his pen (Martin, 111). He also has a way of incorporating his life into his novels. Particularly in The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne portrayed himself as the Reverend Dimmesdale. Dimmesdale has shown guilt, which Hawthorne has also. Hawthorne made Dimmesdale?s life rough because Hawthorne knew that he didn?t like the profession of being a minister, and he also showed how Dimmesdale is his own worst enemy.