Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay, Research Paper
From the scaffolding in the Scarlett Letter , to the dark, deep, and evil forests of
Young Goodman Brown ; these are elements of Puritanism. Nathaniel Hawthorne,
in his literary works, dramatizes his ancestry and background of Puritanism.
Hawthorne was born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, to one New England s
oldest Puritan families. When Hawthorne was four, his father died, and from there
on he was surrounded by females: two sisters, his retiring mother, and a maiden aunt.
That is where his ties to his father s family side were lost, and he grew to his maternal
side. They were supportive and made sure that he was to attend college, the first in
his family to do so(Turner 33). During his four years at Bowdoin college, despite his
reclusive nature, he established close relationships with his classmates, some for life.
Among his classmates were soon-to-be important political and literary figures of the
day: future Senator Jonathan Ciley, future President Franklin Pierce, and writers
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Horatio Bridge. These four years of sharing
companionship with others were contrasted by his following twelve years of
self-determined isolation spent in the upper floor of his mother s home back in Salem.
There he spent all his time trying to master the art of writing. Also, in that time of
isolation, researching the local New England history for background use in his fiction
writings, Hawthorne made a surprising discovery. His seventeenth century paternal
ancestors, which he always assumed to be farmers and seamen had been major
founders, political leaders, and also religious Puritan leaders of Salem. Elements of
family and local history provided much of the material for some of
Hawthorne s fictional works. His great-grandfather was one of the most intense of all
the old Salem witchtrial judges.
Hawthorne viewed his Puritan ancestors with a mixture of pride and guilt. He
felt pride in seeing the history of his own family involved so deeply with
Salem(Turner 5). He was proud of their success and accomplishments in founding a
majority of Salem. On the other hand, he felt guilty for his ancestor s part in the
witchtrials along with all the prosecutions of Quakers. In Young Goodman Brown
the devil tells Brown that I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed
that woman so smartly (Hawthorne 2131). Hawthorne often called the Puritan life of
his ancestors strict. He was aware of the continuos tension and battle between the
flesh and the spirit in all the lives of Puritans. From this he created many of his
literary dilemmas in characters belonging to his works in the Scarlett Letter and
Young Goodman Brown as well in some of his other works. It was in the three
evils, boredom, vice, and desire, kept within his characters, under a forceful hand of
religion, that produced these internal conflicts. With Hawthorne s skeptical,
dual-outlook on life, by the 1830 s, he had chosen to spend one-third of his life in
self-determined isolation. Though he chose it, it was entirely against his beliefs.
Hawthorne believed society to be all-important. What Hawthorne learned from his
associations with people and in current ideas in college convinced him of the need for
social responsibility and human concerns(Johnson 35). Hawthorne felt that the
human must have meaning and value only through mutual relationships(Anderson 60).
The same choice between isolation and part of society is often found in the characters
in his literary works containing a Puritan setting. Coming out of his years of isolated
study, Hawthorne s unique, dual-outlook of life caused him to constantly try to see
both sides of situations; and
later doubts would increase his skepticism. He adopted a lifelong philosophy of
uncertainty both in his private life, and in his fiction (Donaldson 216).
Hawthorne s mental and moral beliefs are revealed throughout Young Goodman
Brown. Puritans believed that the fall of Adam was the inheritance of all men, and
to redeem oneself came only through Christ. Hawthorne came to believe that the fall
was by human fault, and that damnation is not inherited but chosen and is
redeemable through human agency (Ziff 140). He thought that humans share a type
of brotherhood of guilt. If guilt itself was escapable, brotherhood with the guilty
was not (Ziff 142). This belief of Hawthornes is the pivoting point of this story.
People in the Puritan society were constantly tormented because of the possible
convictions and judgments of the other townspeople. This battle in each Puritan
intrigued Hawthorne and he sought out its presence in Puritan literature. Works such
as Cotton Mather s Magnalia fascinated Hawthorne. Because it held the morbid
intensity with which he projected distinctive features of the Puritan imagination of
reality. Mather also believed there were evil spirits in the world, these unlovely
demons were everywhere, in the sunshine as well as in the darkness, and that they
were hidden in men s hearts and stole into their most secret thought (Abel 133).
Those evil spirits tortured the Puritan , constantly reminding him of his sin and the
battle in his own heart. Hawthorne showed the presence of demons in Young
Goodman Brown by showing through Brown, a Puritan s journey to find his own
Justification(Fogle 16). When Goodman Brown entered the forest to face evil with
his faith. He found in the forest together, both pious and the lesser Godly people of
the town. It was strange that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the
sinners abashed by the saints (Hawthorne 2135). Unable to accept that society is a
brotherhood of both good and evil, Brown chose his own damnation. Brown chose
to see that all were evil and lost has chance at redemption when he chose to isolate himself
and to stand down to his faith and fellow man. Men like Brown are everywhere in today s
society, and there still are others who try and destroy that which they do not understand,
or refuse to understand like Hawthorne demonstrates often in his works, which contain a
Puritan setting. One of Hawthorne s themes in his literary works is pride; spiritual pride is
demonstrated by the Goodman Brown here in his novel. Hawthorne rounds off the
Puritan cycle in American literature in his belief on the existence of an evil, the devil, and
in a sense of determinism(Rueben 2).