Nathaniel Hawthorne Background • Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, as Puritanism was on the wane in the region. • However, Puritans still • dominated Salem itself. • Puritans were a • grouping of Protestants, • particularly English • Calvinists, who came to • the New World to worship God in a manner they saw as purer in terms of Christian doctrine and practice. • This is important because Hawthorne’s relatives were Puritans in the 1600s.
Nathaniel Hawthorne Background • Hawthorne’s father died when Nathaniel was four years old; his mother was consumed by mourning as a result. Nathaniel spent much of his childhood alone. • And the more Hawthorne learned about his ancestors, his Puritan forefathers, the more withdrawn he became. • William Hathorne and John • Hathorne were involved in • the persecution of suspected • witches in the 1600-1700s, of which Nathaniel was ashamed. • In fact, Hawthorne added the W in his name to separate himself from them.
Nathaniel Hawthorne Background • Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College and graduated in 1825. • When deciding on a career, Hawthorne said: • “I do not wish to be a doctor • and live by men’s diseases, nor • a minister to live by their sins, • nor a lawyer to live by their • quarrels. So I don’t see that • there is anything left for me to be but a writer.” • Soon after graduation, he wrote and published at his own expense the novel Fanshawe. He decided that it was poorly written and bought back and burned as many copies of possible.
Hawthorne Background & Style • From 1825-1837, he spent his time in virtual solitude. It was during this twelve year apprenticeship that he learned his craft. In 1837, he published the collection Twice-Told Tales. It was well-received and he was on his way. • In the early 1840s, Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia Peabody, moved to Concord, which was filled with great minds, including Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and, later, Herman Melville. • A man of his time, Hawthorne was a “romantic.”
Romanticism 1830-1865 • Romantic writers (and artists) saw themselves as revolting against the "Age of Reason" (1700-1770) and its classical values • The American Romantics searched for new spiritual roots. • They believed religion stifled the human spirit. • In their writing, they sought ways to transcendthe world created by rationalism, religion, sin and guilt.
Hawthorne & Romanticism • This means that stories were often set in the past, and they usually have a distant feel • Supernatural forces are often involved • Above all romantics seek more to illustrate a point rather than to portray what is actually real
Hawthorne & His Philosophy in Writing • It was in this romantic sense that Hawthorne expressed his views of humankind. • Hawthorne thought that the darker side of the human heart was being overlooked. • In Hawthorne’s view, humankind might have good intentions, but we are ultimately unable to escape our natural state: we are evil, sinful, tormented by guilt, brought down by pride, and intolerant to the extreme. • This pride was the unpardonable sin to Hawthorne.
Hawthorne & His Philosophy in Writing • In Hawthorne’s view, he was never really able to separate himself from the inherited guilt that was passed to him from his ancestors. • This belief is based on the concept of original sin from Adam and Eve that passes to all of humankind. We are, at our cores, “fallen” beings who are inherently evil because of our lineage back to the Garden of Eden. • Hawthorne held this view, and he believed that the acceptance of our evil natures was better than denial of it. This is a particularly important detail because Hawthorne saw the intolerance of the Puritans towards other sins as the worst sin of all: PRIDE—the belief that one is better than someone else. • In Hawthorne’s view, since we are all sinners, we should try to understand each other and show compassion rather than judgment.
His Philosophy in Writing & Major Works • Pride, for Hawthorne, was the “unpardonable sin,” mainly because of its natural effects. • To Hawthorne pride could lead to isolation—whether the isolation is caused by the self or community—and this isolation could cause suffering, even to the point that the prideful person is destroyed. • In 1850, Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter, his most famous work. • It is the story of love, vengeance, sin, isolation, and suffering that envelops the lives of the characters.
Other Works and Final Thoughts • Hawthorne’s other novels included The House of the Seven Gables, The Blithedale Romance, and The Marble Faun. • In addition, he produced some excellent short stories, including “Young Goodman Brown”, “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment”, and “The Minister’s Black Veil”. • Even though they contend with spirituality, his works are deeply psychological and offer some deep insights into humankind.
Scarlet Letter • Genre: Romantic, historical fiction; semi-allegorical; semi-autobiographical • Setting: Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony 1642-1650 • Narrator: unnamed customhouse surveyor who writes 200 years after the events occur • POV: omniscient; sympathetic; authorial voice • Themes: love, betrayal, hypocrisy, revenge, alienation, nature of sin/evil/guilt, public and private shame, pride, past influence on presence • Symbols: the letter, rosebush, scaffold, night, sun, forest, Pearl, meteor, glove