Research Paper on Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne
From the deep hidden secrets in “The Birth-Mark” to the dark, deep, and mysterious forests of “Young Goodman Brown” Nathaniel Hawthorne has a story that appeals to every reader’s interest. Hawthorne has combined many forms of symbolism to portray his stories themes. His short stories were written based on his views on puritan beliefs, and his life occurrences, to get the readers to believe in what he believed. He did this to express his dark and gloomy outlook on life to his audience. In almost every single-story Hawthorne’s characters are faced with a choice where they either choose between doing something that is right or something that is wrong. Where both choices lead to a consequence.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4th, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts to parents Nathaniel Hawthorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning. He grew up in Salem and spent a good amount of time in Raymond, Maine. His family was a puritan family. His father passed away due to yellow fever in 1808 when Hawthorne would have been 4 years old. After his father’s death, his mother moved his family back to live with her parent’s in Salem. He remained in Salem until 1821 when his family was able to get enough money to send him to Bowdoin College in Maine. He remained in Maine until he graduated in 1825, and he immediately started working on his novels. His first novel “Fanshawe” was not released until 1828. He didn’t have a publisher, so he published it with his own money. He published a few novels after, but nothing happened until 1837 when he met his soon to be wife Sophia Peabody. They married and moved to Concord, Massachusetts and lived next to some big-time writers, such as Ralph Emerson, and David Thoreau. The Hawthorne’s struggled with debt and were forced to return to Salem so that they could support their growing family. Hawthorne was able to get a job as a Surveyor of a port in Salem. But he only had this job for a few years until he lost it when he got a new boss. He then left Salem again for Lenox Massachusetts here, he wrote his most popular book the “Scarlet Letter.” He purchased a house here and continued to write. Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864. His wife passed away on February 26, 1871.
Hawthorne was one of America’s early writers, writing during the New England Renaissance period in America. His stories were based off his life experiences from throughout his life. Therefore, during his life there were two different writing styles throughout, these writing styles were Transcendentalism and Anti-Transcendentalism. It was harder for Hawthorne to get his start when he first started writing because most of the other authors were Transcendentalists. This was the most popular writing style during this time. However, Hawthorne was an Anti-Transcendentalist who focused on the more negative aspects of how the human spirit could be torn down instead of the happy high-spirited possibilities of it. Seeing how Hawthorne viewed his Puritan ancestors with both pride and guilt he still focused on the evil aspects of what they did instead of feeling prideful in how his ancestors founded most of Salem.
In “The Ministers Black Veil,” you can really see where this feeling of guilt is present. This whole story is written with a gothic writing style that makes it easier for Hawthorne to draw the readers focus to the main emotion of the story. The Black Veil is used to symbolize the hidden sin that is carried in everybody. In this story, many feel that Mr. Hooper is wearing the Black Veil because he committed a form of adultery. But to Mr. Hooper this is not the case he insures people that he is wearing it to symbolize all of mankind’s sins. Throughout all of Mr. Hooper’s life, he is treated badly by the other people in his town including the children. But he continues to wear the veil and much like Hawthorne’s other stories he is faced with a decision to remove the veil or leave it on. Whatever decision he chooses he is faced with a consequence, his consequence for choosing to leave it on is that he will be alone forever and if he takes it off nobody will view him as the same man he was before. He decides to leave it on all the way until his death Mr. Hooper continues to leave this black veil on and experiences guilt all throughout his life, much like Hawthorne because of what his ancestors did in Saleem.
Just by reading the title “Young Goodman Brown” you can instantly see one use of symbolism. The title symbolizes the pureness of a young innocent, good man. The story starts when Goodman Brown says goodbye to his wife Faith before heading off into a dark forest. His wife Faith has pink ribbons in her hat which are used as symbolism. The color pink is often described as innocent and fun. While walking into the forest he meets an old man that offers Goodman Brown a staff that will help him travel faster. This staff is encircled by a serpent which is the symbol for an evil demon in the bible. When Goodman Brown accepts the staff, he is instantly on the path towards evil. While in the forest he sees a pink ribbon fall from the sky, he gets the feeling that his wife Faith has lost her sense of purity and has gotten involved with the devil. After this encounter when he returns to his village, he is greeted by his wife faith who is once again wearing the pink ribbons which symbolizes her return to innocence. As he continues to walk through the village he feels as if he can’t trust anyone in the village and lives the remainder of his life in despair and fear. Much like Young Goodman Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne spent most of his life alone with simply a few friends and his family members around him. This story shows how much the actions of his ancestors affect his day to day life. Even though he wasn’t around during the time all these things happened, he still feels that he is somehow to be blamed since he wears the name of his family.
The “Scarlet Letter” was wrote with the prefect atmosphere to contain many hidden symbols in. The Puritans saw the world through allegory’s, so for them the smallest event that happened was viewed as a religious event, such as a rainbow or a shooting star. In the “Scarlet Letter” Hawthorne takes their interpretations and turns them around. The community of Puritans viewed Hester as a fallen woman who deserves the humiliation from her choices. Dimmesdale is seen as saint who was a man of great purity. The people of his community view him as someone of great religious power. Chillingworth’s name has a hidden symbol in it which leads us to see that he is an icy and cold-hearted person who is driven by revenge until he loses his humanity. His lust towards revenge affects Dimmesdale and ultimately destroys the minister which causes Chillingworth to become the Black Man. The Black Man is used as a symbol for Satan. And the townspeople know the Black Man as the creature that haunts the forest around them. The Black Man affects the characters all throughout the story. Towards the end when Hester’s daughter Pearl ask about the Black Man she responds with “Once in my life I met the Black Man! … This scarlet letter is his mark.” This shows us how the devil was apart of her sin and left his mark on it, his mark was the Scarlet Letter.
There are also many objects and places that have hidden meanings behind them in “The Scarlet Letter.” The name “Scarlet Letter” stands for Red Letter. At the time this story took place red was used as a symbol for love, and sex. Red was also used to symbolize energy. This energy was shown in the character Pearl who was known for her wild energy. At the beginning of the story it says, “A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered oak, and studded with iron spikes.” This excerpt shows many different forms of symbolism. At the beginning the words “sad-colored,” “gray,” ‘iron spikes” gives the reader a dark and gloomy feeling to the opening paragraph and prepares them for something serious to come. The prison door although only mentioned for a short time has a big role in starting the story off by symbolizing punishment. The “Iron Spikes” represent the harsh punishments that the Puritans used. The prison door and the “sad colored garments” were used to present a sense of a stubborn community who were very judgmental of everything people did. At first the Scarlet Letter itself showed the adultery that Hester had committed. But by the end of the book it stands for adultery but also for an angel. What was once something that brought her great dishonor and hate is now something that brings her honor and pleasure. Hawthorne uses the scarlet letter to show how that the Puritans were not as good as they sounded. With the “Scarlet Letter” he lets people see how they basically bullied their own people if they did something that was not the social norm. Since Hawthorne’s ancestors were Puritans he almost feels as if it’s his duty to call them out on all the messed-up stuff they did.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of America’s most influential writers to this day. His use of symbolism is what made all of his stories well known. His stories have hidden meanings in them that related in one way or another to his Puritan ancestors’ actions. Hawthorne was not proud of what his ancestors did, and this made him feel as if he was to blame. Because of this most of his stories are him showing the readers why they were not good people and have a dark, and gloomy feel to them.
- Beatrice, Rebecca. “The Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne.” History of Massachusetts, 2011, historyofmassachusetts.org/nathaniel-hawthorne/.
- “How to Write about Nathaniel Hawthorne .” LINCCWeb Catalog Search, Infobase Learning, 2019, online.infobase.com.db23.linccweb.org/Lit/Literature/HTWAAuthorWorks/12?authorId=72918.
- “Nathaniel Hawthorne .” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, by Robert S. Levine, W.W. Norton, 2017, pp. 328–332. (2019). (SparkNotes LLC) Retrieved April 12, 2019, from SparkNotes The Scarlet Letter: https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/scarlet/
The Black Man is a symbol for Satan, pure evil. The symbol primarily stands for Chillingworth. When Hester first sees her husband in Chapter 4, she says, “Why dost thou smile so at me? … Art thou like the Black Man that haunts the forest round about us? Hast thou enticed me into a bond that will prove the ruin of my soul?” Indeed Chillingworth tries, forcing Hester to promise not to reveal his identity so he can probe the minister’s soul to discover if his suspicions that Dimmesdale is Hester’s lover are true. Chillingworth can be seen as the devil because he uses his intelligence to help destroy Dimmesdale. In so doing he comes to look like the devil as well as act like him.