Analysis Of Three Of Hawthorne

’s Works: Solitude And Isolation Essay, Research Paper Analysis of Three of Hawthorne’s Works: Solitude and Isolation Julia Pesaresi Burns 3rd Period Pre-Ap English 20 February 96

’s Works: Solitude And Isolation Essay, Research Paper

Analysis of Three of Hawthorne’s Works: Solitude and Isolation

Julia Pesaresi Burns 3rd Period Pre-Ap English 20 February 96

Solitude and isolation are immense, powerful, and overcoming feelings.

They possess the ability to destroy a person’s life by overwhelming it with

gloom and darkness. Isolate is defined: to place or keep by itself, separate

from others (Webster 381). Solitude is “the state of being alone” (Webster 655).

Nathaniel Hawthorne uses these themes of solitude and isolation for the

characters in several of his works. “Hawthorne is interested only in those

beings, of exceptional temperament or destiny, who are alone in the world…”

(Discovering Authors). Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Goodman Brown, and

Beatrice Rappaccini are all persons “whom some crime or misunderstood virtue, or

misfortune, has set them by themselves or in a worse companionship of solitude

(Discovering Authors). Hawthorne devoted many stories to isolated characters -

one’s who stand alone with no one to look to for love or support. “For

Hawthorne, this condition of moral and social isolation is the worst evil that

can befall aman” (Adams 73). Each of the characters above are separated from

the world because of some sin or evil. Their separation is a painful,

devastating feelings. The themes of solitude and isolation are depicted in

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, “Young Goodman Brown, “and

“Rappaccini’s Daughter.”

At the age of four, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s father died, devastating his

mother and destroying his family forever. He later recalls how his mother and

sisters would “take their meals in their rooms, and my mother has eaten alone

ever since my father’s death” (Martin 10). Naturally, Hawthorne’s mother’s

isolated life contributed to his personal solitude and to his stories of

solitude. Although he never reached the point she did, his life too became one

of separation and loneliness. When he was nine, a severe foot injury reduced

his physical activity for almost two years and excluded him from many activities

with other children. Soon after the recovery, his family moved to an isolated

area in Raymond, Maine. It is here that he picked up his first “accursed habits

of solitude” (Martin 3). On his relationship with his mother, Hawthorne said:

I loved my mother, but there has been , ever since my boyhood, a sort

of coldness of intercourse between us, such is apt to come between

persons of strong feelings, if they are not managed rightly (Martin 11).

Hawthorne never had a strong, healthy family life. However, his lonely

childhood was only the beginning to the many solitude years he would experience.

1825-1837 have traditionally been termed the years of solitude in

Hawthorne’s life. During this time, he is described as having “a sombre, half-

disappointed spirit” (Newman 127). However, “These years were solitary to an

unusual degree, but not in the sense of a hermit’s deliberate withdrawal from

the world” (Stewart 27). Hawthorne used this time to write several of his

stories. “His chief object was to master the writer’s difficult art – something

which cannot be done in the hubbub of social activity” (Stewart 27). “His

household being made up of strong- attached yet reticent people each of whom

maintained a well- developed sense of solitude, thus gave Nathaniel the privacy

that he required” (Martin 11). Therefore, he kept to himself spending “many

lonely and despondent hours in the chamber where fame was won” (Stewart 37). By

1838, Hawthorne had created forty-four tales and one novel. In 1837, he became

engaged to Sophia Peabody. At this point, his life of loneliness left him; he

felt invigorated and alive for the first time. In one of his many letters to

her, he wrote “And sometimes (for I had no wife then to keep my heart warm) it

seemed as if I were already in the grave, with only life enough to be chilled

and benumbed (Martin 15). Hawthorne realized how isolated his life had become

from the world. Sophia helped to pull him out of this solitary period.

The adulteress act of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, in The

Scarlet Letter, forces the two to live in isolation for the rest of their lives.

“Hester and Dimmesdale sin and are isolated by that sin” (Ringe 90). Hester

Prynne, “alone and independent by decree…” (Martin 118), spends all her time

in her tiny home with only her baby, Pearl. After the first scaffold scene,

both Hester and Dimmesdale “begin to work out their penance in isolation” (Ringe

90). Hester feels so guilty and sinful that she wants to be away from the world.

“[She] becomes absorbed with a morbid meddling of conscience, and continues to

focus her attention on self when she feels that none is so guilty as she” (Ringe

90). The scarlet letter “A” that she must wear, makes her “…an outcast from

social joy forever (Stoddard 8). However, this “[shame, despair, and solitude]

made her strong and taught her much amiss” (Martin 21). Being on her own

teaches Hester a great deal. unfortunately, “the price of her new

intelligence…is isolation” (Ringe 91). Through this isolation from the

community, Hester acquires an intellect which enables her to look at human

institutions with a fresh point of view (Ringe 91). She becomes more caring and

helps by “…performing small services for [the community]…” (Lewis 21).

Hester’s only friend is Dimmesdale, whom she can no longer be with. She

is completely alone with no friends or companions. She has been living on the

“outskirts of town,” attempting to cling to the community by performing small

services for it (Lewis 21), though:

In all her intercourse with society, there was nothing that

made her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every

word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in

contact, implied…that she was banished, and as much alone

as if she inhabited another sphere… (Arvin 13).

The community’s “social ostracism made her into a type of moral solitude”

(Levin 22). Hester Prynne becomes a lonely woman, isolated from

everyone. Her overwhelming sense of guilt forces her to live in a world full of

darkness and gloom.

“It is Dimmesdale whom secretly tortures” (Doren 15). Arthur

Dimmesdale through the seven years, stood a witness of Hester’s misery and

solitude. He watches Hester’s public isolation while suffering from his own

privately. Dimmesdale silently torturing inside, engages in “heterodox modes of

self- punishment” (Abele 47). “[He] suffers in complete isolation, for the sin

is all within him…” (Ringe 90). He is miserable and lives in complete

solitude, rarely leaving his home. He “becomes suspicious of all mankind and

seeks reasons for his keeping silent” (Ringe 90). He deliberately isolates

himself from the town for fear that someone will find out about his sinful life.

He is “a prisoner in the dungeon of his own heart” (Brodhead 162). Revealing

himself would release his fear of recognition, thus would rid him of his

isolation. Unfortunately, he chooses solitude rather than having to

consistently facing the people to make him feel less guilty. Dimmesdale becomes

a sad, tortured, miserable man until he confesses, then dies.

“Young Goodman Brown” is a story of a decent man who is transformed into

a “stern, a darkly meditative, a distrustful man…” (Bunge 11). He sees

visions of evil in the forest that devastate him permanently. “Brown turns away

[from the meeting] at the last moment because he does not want to confess his

evil. Ironically, his exemplary behavior produces a life of isolation and

gloom” (Bunge 11). He quickly concludes that there is “no good on earth”

(Martin 87). He spends the rest of his life isolated from the town and even

his wife. He “…shrinks away from the minister, wonders what god Deacon is

praying to, snatches a child from Goody Cloyse, and passes his wife,

Faith,…without saying a word” (Adams 72). Brown can no longer distinguish

good from evil. He trusts no one, and hates everyone. “…he is forever blind

to the world as it normally presents itself” (Martin 81). Things that were once

ordinary and plain are now suspicious. The vision “turns his world inside out

and compels him to live and die in a gloom born of his inverted sense of moral

reality” (Martin 87).

The most immediately apparent reason for Brown’s final state of mind is

that he has been required to face and acknowledge the evil in himself and others,

including his young wife, so as to be able to recognize the good, and has failed

the test” (Adams 72). Admitting that even his innocent wife, Faith, is sinful is

too much for Brown to accept. After the meeting, he is so dumbfounded by the

fact that all are evil that is “condemns him to a lifetime of faithfulness”

(Levy 118). The book is “about Brown’s doubt, his discovery of the possibility

of universal evil” (Martin 81). He becomes a distrustful, miserable man until

his death.

In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Beatrice Rappaccini has been impregnated

with poison since her birth. This poison, deadly to all others, is like her

sister. unfortunately, because it is deadly, she too becomes harmful. This

means she must remain within the walls of her garden with the poisonous plant.

“A very large concern of the tale is that Beatrice is imprisoned” (Martin 88).

This imprisonment results in her being cut from “most…human relationships”

(Benzo 142). Giovanni, the one person who meets and falls in love with Beatrice,

describes in her face a look of “desolate separation” (Benzo 145). Both being

in the garden and filled with poison causes her to live a life of complete

solitude and isolation. “This isolation…causes Beatrice her greatest sorrow”

(Benzo 142). “Beatrice is toxic: …flowers wither in her hand and lizards

and insects die when exposed to her breath” (Bunge 68). Contact with other

humans will cause the other person to become poisoned also – as Giovanni did.

Rappaccini laughed at Giovanni, “he now stands apart from common man as thou

dost, Beatrice…, from ordinary women (Martin 91). Beatrice is a lonely and

deadly woman who wants so desperately to be “normal.”

Beatrice’s greatest wish is to have love. She would “fain be loved not

feared” (Martin 97). She is presented as a “trapped and poisonous [woman]

who…needs a special kind of redemption: a prisoner in the garden, her body

nourished by poison, she…belongs to God in spirit; her spirit indeed craves

love as its daily food” (Martin 88). Beatrice wants to be loved, and she wants

to have friends. She wants to share joyous feelings with someone. Growing up

with only her scientist father, she is completely alone. Unlike Hawthorne’s

other characters, Beatrice hates her isolation. She wants to be with other

people, with love, with happiness. Unfortunately, she never receives any of her

wishes because she is a sad, but poisonous and deadly creature.

The themes of solitude and isolation are depicted in Nathaniel

Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, “Young Goodman Brown,” and “Rappaccini’s

Daughter.” The definition of solitude is “the state of being alone” (Webster

655). To isolate is to “keep by itself, separate from others” (Webster 381).

In his early life, Hawthorne’s mother lived a completely separate, isolated life.

At times, Hawthorne would “scarcely see her in three months” (Martin 10). He

quickly picked up her lonely habits. As a child, he was often separated from

others. During the solitary years, he devoted all of his time to writing using

only the most isolated and solitude characters. “[Hawthorne's] men and women

are no egotists to whom isolation is a delight; they suffer from it, they try

in vain to come out of the shadow and sit down with the rest of the world in the

sunshine” (Discovering Authors). Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Goodman

Brown, and Beatrice Rappaccini “belong to his exhibit of lonely men, of outcasts,

of ‘isolatoes’ is Melville’s word” (Abele 12). Hawthorne’s abundant use of

solitude characters and stories comes from all his experiences of isolation.

Having an isolated mother and being a writer, it is not so unusual for him to

have lived such a separate life. “The life of a serious writer is likely to be

in a large part lonely” (Stewart 37). The lonely Nathaniel Hawthorne creates

his greatest works using two familiar themes – solitude and isolation.