Hawthorne Essay Research Paper Nathaniel HawthorneNathaniel Hawthorne

Hawthorne Essay, Research Paper

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne s life, as seen in his writing, shows solitary self analysis

expressed as symbolism which exhibits the weakness he found in all mankind. The ease in

which one can understand his symbolism has influenced American Literature.

Hawthorne s cynical themes of human nature were represented in The Ministers Black

veil, The Birthmark, and Rappaccini s Daughter. Hawthorne s preoccupation with

scientific and Puritan religious values shows his belief in mans shortcomings through the

faults of his main characters.

The solitary character, found in Hawthorne s short stories, was based on his own

life. He lived a reclusive life starting at four when his father died of yellow fever. His

mother, Elizabeth Clark Manning Hathorne, and her three children were forced to move

back to her father s house. In a house filled with thirteen others and a mother who

mourned her husband in seclusion Nathaniel found it necessary to spend as much time

alone as possible. His interest in reading began at seven when he injured his foot in a ball

game and recuperating for several years instilled in him the love of literature (Hart 320).

Being alone was a habit for him and deepened when he would spend time alone at his

family s lake in Maine ( Rivendell s). Later while going to Bowdin college he met and

became friends with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Horatio Bridge and Franklin Pierce.

Although his first friendships would help establish his career as a writer he continued to

be withdrawn and lonely until he married Sophia Peabody in 1842 (Herzberg, 439).

The structured religious views that Hawthorne rebelled against were also instilled

in him at an early age. Although he grew up surrounded by Puritans, he was raised as an

Unitarian and clamed no church at all, his transcendentalist friends helped influence his

beliefs (American 228). Hawthorne s belief surmounted that happiness requires a oneness

of mind, heart, spirit, will, and imagination. In 1839 he invested time and money into a

socialist society experiment called Brook Farm Community. Finding that his nonsocial

behaviors continued to hinder him Nathaniel left after only a few short months (American

224). All of his conflicting ideas about the Puritan religion, original sin and his own place

in the world has let the reader understand Hawthorne s journey of self awareness.

In 1828, after leaving college, he privately published his first novel Fanshawe. He

was unhappy with the response and withdrew it from circulation (Herzberg 440). Only

writing for magazines his stories caught the public eye and in 1837 a compilation of his

short stories were publisher as Twice – Told Tales. According to James D. Hart,

Hawthorne was quoted in saying that the stories in Twice – told tales were the pale tint of

flowers that blossomed in too retired a shade . One of these stories that deals with his

views on Puritanism was The Ministers Black Veil.

The Ministers Black Veil is a story in which the parishioner s of the puritan church

are taken aback by their ministers insistence in wearing a black veil over his face. The

minister symbolized Hawthorne s own solitary life. Hawthorne felt that he was alone in a

crowd and separated from others. He could not walk the streets……the genteel and timid

would turn aside to avoid him , the children fled from his approach, breaking their

merriest sports . The black veil was a material emblem (that) separated him from

happiness but it also made Father Hopper a very efficient clergyman in that he could

sympathize with all dark affections and Strangers came long distances to attend service

at his church (Lauter 2222).

Some believe that the Hawthorne s internalized guilt over his family’s past history

caused him to add the W to his Name. His ancestors were William Hawthorne who in

1630 ordered the whipping of a Quaker woman and 1692 John Hathorne was a judge in

the Salem witch trials (Magill 197). Hawthorne s feelings of Puritan history shaped his

religion guilt which manifested itself in The Ministers Black Veil. The black veil

symbolized how the religious feel that their beliefs protect them and make them above

reproach. Letting the reader wonder what the secret sin of the Minister was, demonstrates

Hawthorne s idea that we will never know what misdeed men hold in their heart and if the

deed was exposed it would separates us more. He names Puritans as hypocrites when

Father Hopper says Tremble also at each other! …. on every visage a Black veil! . The

theme of The Ministers Black Veil could be summed up in the sermon Father Hopper

gave The subject had reference to secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from

our nearest and dearest, and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even

forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them (Lauter 2217 -2224). The Puritans, in

Hawthorne s eyes, were full of moral pride and self righteous indignation, too busy

judging each other and not themselves.

After Hawthorne published Twice – Told Tales, thanks to Franklin Pierce, he

enjoyed a brief period of employment at the Boston Common House (Bowmen). In 1841

he moved to Brook Farm trying to combine his writing and his practical life, but daily

labors kept him unsatisfied and he stayed only six months before his need to write

compelled him to leave (American 224). In 1842 Nathaniel and Sophia were married and

moved to Old Manse in Concord, where he finally allowed someone to share in his

solitude. After living there for three years he published Mosses from Old Manse which

contain The Birthmark and Rappaccini s daughter (Comptons).

The Birthmark also represented a solitary figure being separated by mankind. After

being married only a short time Georgiana, the heroin in the Birthmark, isolates herself

from her husband because of an offending mark on her face. Her husband Aylmer, a

scientist who shutters at the sight of the birthmark found this one defect grow more and

more intolerable, with every moment of their lives. Being a scientist of great knowledge

Aylmer decides it is his duty to remove Georgiana s visible mark of earthly

imperfection . In the Ministers Black Veil the minister is separated because of the symbol

of sin. Georgiana s is also separated when Aylmer selects the birthmark as the symbol of

his wife s liability to sin, sorrow, decay and death … (Lauter 2225 – 2226).

Another woman isolated by a secret sin is Beatrice in Rappaccini s Daughter.

Rappaccini who cares infinitely more for science than mankind raised Beatrice so that

she had been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole nature was

so imbued with them, that she herself had become the deadliest poison in existence . Even

though her sin was not visible as the black veil or the birthmark poison was her element

of life . She could not go out of the garden because as she told Giovanni the effect if my

father s fatal love of science … estranged me from all society of my kind ( Lauter 2241 -


Hawthorne reveals his feeling toward science and men of higher learning in The

Birthmark and Rappaccini s Daughter. The Puritans believed that their religion protected

them from sin with Gods help, but the scientists believed that they were God in creating

their scientific experiments. In The Birthmark, the assistant, Aminadab is a man of low

stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage … his shaggy hair,

his smoky aspect, and the indescribable earthiness that encrusted him, he seemed to

represent man s physical nature but Aylmer description is the opposite Aylmer s slender

figure, and pale, intellectual face, were no less apt a type of the spiritual element .

Thinking himself God – like Aylmer calls Aminadab man of clay and continues with his

experiments to create perfection in the form of his wife (Lauter 2228-2234).

The conflict between science and God is represented in the climax of the stories.

Georgiana, with the symbol of the Hand of God upon her cheek, has been left to be

sacrificed by Aylmer a scientist with a God complex. In the end he succeeds in removing

the blemish but only by losing her because she is fit for heaven where she is made

perfect by the real God (Lauter 2228-2234). The garden in Rappaccini s Daughter is

described as the Eden of present day where Rappaccini has placed Beatrice and

Giovanni as Adam and Eve. Shortly after declaring to Giovanni though my body be

nourished with poison, my spirit is God s creature, and craves love as its daily food …

Yes; spurn me! – tread upon me! – Kill me! Giovanni gives her the antidote, made by a

rival scientist, that is almost divine in its efficacy and does succeed in sending Beatrice

where the evil… will pass away like a dream (Lauter 2239 – 2255).

Hawthorne s disdain for scientist is evident that he always makes them the villain

in his stories. In The Birthmark Aylmer s laboratory has the appearance of hell. Alylmer

in his youth, had made discoveries in the elemental powers of nature … he had satisfied

himself of the causes that kindled and kept alive the fires of the volcano … from the dark

bosom of the earth In the lab there was a furnace, that hot and feverish worker, with

the intense glow of its fire … seemed to be burning for ages . Nathaniel did not take his

own work as seriously as his scientific characters (Lauter 2228 – 2233). The beginning of

Rappaccini s Daughter is filled with self mockery where he makes fun of his own writing

career. In Rappaccini s Daughter Rappaccini has put science before even his own health

he was like a person in inferior health. His face was all overspread with the most sickly

and sallow hue because He would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, of

whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of mustard

seed to the greatest heap of his accumulated knowledge (Lauter 2236 – 2244). The men

of scenic in both stories have put their love of science before everything including their

lives and loves.

Nathaniel was married at the time he wrote Mosses from an Old Manse so the

reader would think that it effected his views on women. When Georgiana realizes that her

husband will go to any lengths to remove the mark upon her face she does not question his

motives because she doesn t want to lose his love. Even after she is told the experiment

could be dangerous she cries out There is but one danger – that this horrible stigma shall

be left upon my cheek! …. Remove it! remove it! – whatever the cost – or we shall both

go mad! She also foreshadows her own death by stating I might wish to put off this

birth-mark of mortality by relinquishing mortality itself …. (Lauter 2223 – 2224). Beatrice

is beautiful and is qualified to fill a professor s chair . Then Giovanni tells her that he has

heard how smart she is, she denies it by saying methinks I would fain rid myself of even

that small knowledge … Signor, do not believe these stories about my science. (Lauter

2241- 2247). Hawthorne calmed his own anxiety about marriage when he wrote The

Ministers Black Veil. Faced by a lifetime of Parson Hopper s black veil, Elizabeth is so

shallow that she replies Then, farewell! but Hawthorne redeems her later saying she was

the nurse … whose calm affection had endured thus Long, in secrecy, in solitude, amid

the chill of age, and would not perish, even at the dying hour of father Hopper (Lauter

2221 – 2223). Even though the women in Hawthorns stories are beautiful and good at

heart they are flawed which in the end brings about their own death or others. It seems as

though he though little of women but you must consider that women of the eighteenth

century are far different than today s woman. A married woman of the 1800 s had little

choice with her life.

After the writing of these short stories he wrote the novel that has made

him famous for his symbolism. Like many of his earlier stories The Scarlet Letter

contained a solitary figure isolated behind a symbol. After the publication of his greatest

novel he moved to Lenox, Massachusetts where he met and influenced the writings of

Herman Melville. Hawthorne became a consult in England with the help of life long friend

and President of the United States Franklin Pierce ( Rivendell s). After which Hawthorne

wrote little and continued his pessimistic views about his work. Finally able to enjoy a

degree of financial comfort he traveled through out Europe (Hart 358). On May

nineteenth, 1864, while traveling with Pierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne Died of a brain tumor

in Plymouth, New Hampshire (Rivendell s).

Nathaniel Hawthorne lifetime of writing gave us a standard in which all American

literature has been gauged. Hawthorne s work let us view his lonely existence, though the

guilt that he lived with and his personal views on traditional puritan roles and scientific

progress. The invisible ghosts of ancestors influenced his feelings of isolation from society

and the symbols that he established separated his characters from life were representative

of his own. Although Nathaniel Hawthorne never became independently wealthy from his

writings his prominence in literature was established when he wrote The Scarlet Letter. If

he had accomplished nothing else in his lifetime this alone would be a monument to his


Works Cited

American Writers a Collection of Literary Biographies, Volume II (1974) New York:

Charles Scribner s Son pg. 223 – 244

Bowmen J.S. (Ed.) (1995) The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography

Oxford UK: Cambridge University Press

Compton s Home Library (CD ROM) (1998) Compton s Interactive Encyclopedia

Soft Key Multimedia Inc.

Hart, James (1965) The Oxford Companion to American Literature, Forth and Fifth

Edition New York: Oxford University Press pg. 357 – 358

Herzberg, Max The Readers Encyclopedia of American Literature (1962) New York:

Thomas Y. Crowell Company pg. 439 – 441

Lauter, Paul (Ed.) The Heath Anthology of American Literature Third Edition (1998)

Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company (2216 – 2255)

Magill, Frank (Ed.) (1980) Magill Surveys American Literature, Colonial Age to 1890

California: Salem Press Inc. pg. 197 – 200

Rivendell s American Literature Page Nathaniel Hawthorne Online Internet Available

at http://www.watson.org/rivendadell/americanlitature.html


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