Literary Analysis: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Authors write stories for different reasons. It can be used as an informative source of information or to entertain the reader. Some write to explain, state an opinion, Hawthorne tho writes to become a well known author of American short stories. His writings are a great example of redemption and the world being a cruel place. In Hawthorne’s writing, he uses aspect of his life, work, and critical perspective of his works. Hawthorne combines narrative skill, artistic integrity, and moral imagination to make him unlike other early American authors.

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Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on the 4th of July in 1804 to Elizabeth and Nathaniel Hawthorne. His father was a ship captain that died when Nathaniel was four years old on account of yellow fever. Because of his father’s death, the family moved to be closer to the rest of his family. From a young age his family noticed that Nathaniel was very intelligent and wanted to push hawthorne to eventually go to college. For two years Hawthorne was bedridden because of a foot injury and during that time it gave him the idea to become a writer (Spirit of Science). He had little formal education until he attended Bowdoin College in 1821 where he developed an idea of what he wanted to do with his life, become a writer, and in that time he met Franklin Pierce, a future president (Barney, Paddock 111).

After college Hawthorne went on an eleven year stint of study and isolation in an attempt to become a better writer. In that time he began writing “Young Goodman Brown” and published the story in 1835. Nathaniel Hawthorne ended his seclusion at home after he met his future wife Sophia Peabody. Before they got married, Hawthorne stayed at the Brook Farm community where he got to know Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. After this time he became very vocal about his opinions on his religion and the world around him. One of the most interesting things about Hawthorne is his opinion of issues from the time.

Hawthorne’s conservative worldview stemmed from his Protestant religion. Hawthorne’s worldview separated him from the people he grew up around which made him skeptical of abobolistion because of how he felt about sin and grace. Unlike most Puritans who think that god is cruel to wrongdoers, Hawthorne believed that repentance can get forgiveness from god (Trepanier 319). He had indifference to the abolition movement and having of slaves but thought of himself as an abolitionist in feeling rather than his religious principles. His opinions were not always popular, making it hard to find writing work. Causing him to write a biography for the man mentioned earlier, Franklin Pierce, the future president. The president liked the biography so he sent Hawthorne to Liverpool where he wrote his last book (Barney, Paddock 111).

Hawthorne’s work “Young Goodman Brown” was not considered his most successful work but help him end the state of being insecure and obscure. This book taught him many new things about New England and about his bloodline. He found out that one of his ancestors whipped a Quaker woman and another was the judge of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. It is believed by critics that hawthorne wrote about the evil of man and the sins that they commit because of the guilt he felt about his ancestors. In the later part of the 1830s Hawthorne’s publishing became very sporadic because he was paid so little and also because he did not receive the recognition that he thought that he deserved (Nathaniel Hawthorne). Hawthorne wanted to gain the reputation he thought he deserved as the author of a collection of stories, hoping to replicate Washington Irving’s career.

Hawthorne achieved the recognition he wanted in 1837 at the age of 31 with the publishing of “Twice Told Tales” but he still did not have the financial backing to support himself from his writings alone. Hawthorne did little for the next few years. He married Franklin Pierce and moved to Brook Farm for some time before becoming the Surveyor of the Salem Custom House from 1846-1848 (Barney and Paddock 110). In 1850 Hawthorne published “The Scarlet Letter”. Hawthorne would build his stories based on some kind of journey or quest to find himself. In the process the protagonist would become enlightened or saddened like in “Young Goodman Brown”. The way that he would build his stories gave him the ability to have have very pronounced themes that could be very obvious to the reader (May 476).

His works gave the main character an ability to resist the strength of evil ways and overcome the devil. His works focused on the American past and the Puritan worldview and had themes of english rule of the New England Colonies. He would talk about his concerns with the coming of age of the United States like it’s becoming a man. Hawthorne was motivated to have New England history that may not be primarily historical because of things like witches and the Devil but can still be historical (May 480). Hawthorne was not a man of extensive wealth. Most of his life he received no money for any of his works. He had a variety of political appointments where he was less than successful. As a result, Hawthorne only made stories when he had the money to do so, which was not very often (Spirit of Science).

Hawthorne’s writing style is artificial and needlessly more complicated than it needs to be. His works are weak in dramatization and confront obvious themes. Hawthorne will stop the story to describe what is going on in the story to in-depth. The characters in the story appeared to be wholesome but are later seen to be just as bad as the devil. His old fashioned dialogue makes the stories seem dated and overblown to a reader from today. In his story “Young Goodman Brown” ,Brown faces ever present evil and evil that later becomes present through his meeting with the devil and the ceremony in the woods. Brown learns that even the most noble people can have inner demons that torment them that others don’t know about. Hawthorne shows that man has the power to get another to do evil. His characters are faced with a moral quandary, such as “Young Goodman Brown”.

In “Young Goodman Brown” a young man is struggling between good and evil. His faith or lack of is explored in the story. Hawthorne uses symbolism throughout the story to emphasize the theme of dismay in evil. The story is about being conventional and having personal freedoms and dealing with inner torment that we don’t always remember that we face. The key to “Young Goodman Brown” are the allegories and morals that make the story strange. Brown faces ever present evil and evil that later becomes present through his meeting with the devil and the ceremony in the woods. He thinks that he will be saved through Faith:

“My love and my Faith,” replied young Goodman Brown, “of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done ’twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!”
Brown is being tested through his wife because he has faith in her to have faith in him. She wants Goodman Brown to always be there with her so they can keep eachother faithful to god and one another. Brown learns that even the most noble people can have inner demons that torment them that other people don’t know about. Hawthorne shows that man has the power to get another to do evil.

While reading works by Nathaniel hawthorne it is important to remember how much of a diverse and challenging life that he had. From his father’s passing at an early age to his lack of funds as he got older; his works give a vivid idea of life in New England in early America. To the modern reader his works can seem very strange but are important nonetheless. His ability to show that a place can be beautiful and at the same time cruel shows the strength of his writing ability. In his writings he puts something above all else, like faith in “Young Goodman Brown”. His ability to have artistic integrity while also show moral integrity gives Hawthorne a predominantly intense writing style. Hawthorne is an effective writer at getting his point across and that is why he is one of the most influential writers in American history.

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Literary Analysis: Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from