Nathaniel Hawthorne


Nathaniel Hawthorne Essay, Research Paper

Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the greatest Anti-Transcendentalist writers of

all time. He utilized his writings to express his dark, gloomy outlook on life.

Hawthorne, a descendant of a puritan family, was born in Salem,

Massachusetts. Some of his ancestors included a judge known for the harsh

persecution of Quakers, and another judge who played an important role in the Salem

witchcraft trials. Hawthorne?s attitude was molded by a sense of guilt, which he traced

to his ancestor?s actions. After college, Hawthorne lived, secluded, for 12 years in his

mother?s house. He then published Twice Told Tales which didn?t sell very well, yet at

the same time, established him as a well known and respected author. He became

good friends of two Transcendentalist writers of the period — Ralph Waldo Emerson

and Henry David Thoreau. He also taught the only other Anti-Transcendentalist writer

of his period — Herman Melville. His most popular book, The Scarlet Letter, earned

Hawthorne international fame. He died in his sleep while on a walking tour in New


The period of time during which Hawthorne wrote was the New England

Renaissance in America. By the year 1840, it was clear that the American experiment

in Democracy had succeeded. England, trying again to retake their old land in ?The

Second American War for Independence?, was no longer a threat to the survival of the

republic. Andrew Jackson, the first ?people?s president?, had served 2 terms in office.

New states were entering the Union. One French observer stated that Americans

had, ?a lively faith in the predictability of man?, and that they, ?admit that what appears

to them today to be good may be superseded by something better tomorrow.?

There were two types of writing styles during Hawthorne?s life —

Transcendentalism and Anti-Transcendentalism. Many of the authors of the period

were influenced by the transcendental movement, which was flourishing at the time.

Transcendentalists believed that intuition and the individual conscience transcend

experience and were therefore better guides to truth than are the senses and logical

reason. They respected the individual spirit and the natural world, believing that

divinity was present everywhere. Anti-Transcendentalists, like Hawthorne and his

apprentice Melville, focused instead on the limitations and potential destructiveness of

the human spirit, rather than on it?s possibilities. The major reason that Hawthorne

was an Anti-Transcendentalist was that, haunted by the cruelty and intolerance of his

Puritan ancestors, Hawthorne viewed evil as one of the dominant forces in the world.

Some of that evil is portrayed in his stories by his use of allegories

characters, settings, and events that have a symbolic meaning. Allegories are usually

used to teach or explain moral principal universal truths. Dimly seen and mysterious

truths were the ones to be found in Hawthorne?s allegories. He sought for those truths

in an area that has hardly been explored even today — the human heart and mind.

Hawthorne believed that the natural world around us, as well as ordinary humans,

contained dark places that the cold light of reason alone could not break through.

Relating directly to allegories is Hawthorne?s use of symbolism in his stories. This is

very evident in The Scarlet Letter where he uses setting and characterization to create

an image of the various characters who each symbolize a different human trait.

The Minister?s Black Veil is the first of Hawthorne?s stories in which the

confrontation of a central symbol generates a principle of dramatic coherence and

organization. The story is primarily about the effects and meaning of the Reverend

Mr. Hooper?s veil. It takes this meaning from what it signifies about the human

condition, the consequences is has on Hooper, and the characters who try to interpret

it?s meaning. The focus in the story is on the meaning of the veil, not on Hooper?s

motives for wearing it. Because Hooper donned the veil, his emotional life was then

ended, and the areas of human experience in which he might have participated in,

effectively extinguished. Exemplifying the ?power of blackness? in Hawthorne?s work

was Young Goodman Brown. The main purpose of this narrative tale is to move the

protagonist toward a personal and climatic vision of evil, leaving in it?s a rubble and

prevailing feeling of distrust. From Goodman Brown?s dream vision or his spectral

adventure in the forest, he has received a paralyzing sense that the brotherhood and

unity of man is only reachable through the fatherhood of the devil. Terence Martin

sums up the meaning of Hawthorne?s best known book, The Scarlet Letter in three

sentences: ?Taking its form in Hawthorne?s imagination, the total context of The

Scarlet Letter inheres in the letter itself. Invented by the community to serve as an

unequivocal emblem of penance, the letter has frozen Hester into a posture of

haughty agony, has brought Dimmesdale to a death of ?triumphant ignominy? on the

scaffold, has victimized the victimizer — Chillingsworth. Hawthorne begins and ends

with the letter, which encompasses and transcends all its individual meanings, which

signifies, totally and finally, The Scarlet Letter itself.?

Shown by his past, and his feelings toward it, by the books that he wrote and

the life that he led, Nathaniel Hawthorne was an Anti-Transcendentalist in the purest

sense of the word.


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