Famous American author who was born on the fourth of July in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. His most famous work is The Scarlet Letter, but The House of the Seven Gables is the one I read in high school. As a teenager, I found his style rather laborious to read, but I plan to re-read his work now that I have more appreciation for his moral and psychological perspectives. Generally, Hawthorne's works focused on New England.

This paper was written the day after coming back from a trip to N'awlins. It received a B. (B+ from Professor Pi)


Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the greatest early-American writers that we know of. He not only wrote in a style completely different from that of his contemporaries, but one that was against the current standards of writing. This paper is aimed at revealing information to the reader about Hawthorne's life, family, personal influences, and how he himself influenced the style of future American writers. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July the Fourth, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts to Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Clarke in the house that his father had built on Union Street. At the age of seven he started to attend school, irregularly at first until not at all. When he had turned fifteen he was forcibly sent back to Salem to prepare for college. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825, among classmates such as future President Franklin Pierce and author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. College was when he changed his name from his father's, Hathorne, to Hawthorne.

The Hathorne family had a long history in America, going back to the founding of Boston in 1630. His family first sailed from England in the Arbella, the flagship of a large Puritan fleet under the command of Governor John Winthrop. Hawthorne was very conscious of his ancestry, being both proud and fearful of it. The first of the Hathorne's to live in America was William Hathorne who settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts and moved to Salem in 1637. Before he was thirty, William was twice a representative to the General Court, the governing body of Massachusetts, thus establishing the large influence and posterity of the Hathorne family. Also included in his paternal heritage was John Hawthorne, the presiding magistrate in the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne's own father, Captain Nathaniel Hathorne, died when he was four years old in Dutch Guiana of yellow fever, leaving his mother a grief-stricken recluse for most of the remainder of her life. When Hawthorne was thirty-eight he married Sophia Peabody, one of the members of the illustrious Salem Peabody's. They had three children: Una, Julian, and Rose.

Because of Hawthorne's deep Puritan scruples and personal disposition, he wrote in a truly unique style for his time. Among his influences was the concept of Original Sin, which is defined as either 1. The sin that Adam committed. Or 2. A consequence of this first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our descent from Adam. The second definition is more widely accepted, as evident when St. Augustine said, "The deliberate sin of the First man is the cause of Original sin." This preoccupation with evil earned him the title "the father of the American psychological novel." He was a skilled craftsman in his writing, because no chapter, paragraph, or even sentence could be omitted without doing violence to the story. His most widely recognized novel, The Scarlet Letter, is a nearly perfect example of the static, pictorial designs that Hawthorne's Puritanical dream-vision of the world demanded.

These personal influences cause him to write into the older classic, literary style one remarkable for its directness, clarity, and sureness of idioms. When queried on a phrase of manuscript, he could always point to some precedent in the Bible. ("Hawthorne, Nathaniel", Encyclopedia Britannica) His Puritan tradition of moral earnestness was another force that influenced his writing style. Hawthorne was also a mastery of allegory and symbolism. Allegory is a literary device in which characters and events stand for abstract ideas, so that the literal sense suggests a parallel, deeper symbolic sense. This sort of style was present in every word that Hawthorne wrote, from his first novel, Fanshawe to his last complete one, The Marble Faun. Adam fell, these remarkable fictions seem to say, that we might ultimately rise to a loftier paradise than his. ("Hawthorne, Nathaniel", Encyclopedia Britannica) But being his own severest critic, he destroyed much of his own work, destroying even his most famous work, The Scarlet Letter, after it was typeset.

Hawthorne was also extremely polar when it came to his writing, saying "winter is the season where my brain-work is chiefly accomplished." Hawthorne once confessed that he "discovered that the summer was an unfavorable time for writing...it was only when the autumn leaves began to color that he could bear to settle down to his desk." He moved to Concord, Massachusetts and joined a reserved group of notables that included Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Bronson Alcott; all of these being leaders of the en vogue transcendentalist movement in American literature. His dark and brooding preoccupation with evil was always in sharp contrast with the prevailing optimism of the Concord circle, and although he was good friends with Emerson and Thoreau, he rejected transcendentalism. But despite this circle of friends and contemporaries it is still believed that solitude was the main reason for Hawthorne's distorted and dark vision rather than his Puritan blood.

He published his first novel, Fanshawe, anonymously and at a personal cost of one hundred dollars; it was received horribly and Hawthorne later disowned it. In 1842 he republished some of his previous shorter works under the title of Twice-Told Tales, which gained him high praise from Edgar Allan Poe. After he was fired from the Customs House in Concord, where he worked as Weigher and Gauger, he started to write the novel that made him famous, The Scarlet Letter, in 1850. After this he moved to Lenox, Massachusetts and became close friends with Herman Melville, who greatly admired Hawthorne and dedicated his Moby Dick to his friend. Quickly after moving he wrote The House of the Seven Gables, which is now considered his second-best novel. In 1852, former classmate and now President Franklin Pierce award Hawthorne a consulship in Liverpool, England, because of which he wrote a campaign biography for him in 1853 entitled The Life of Franklin Pierce. When he returned from his consulship in 1860, he disliked the American atmosphere, missing his British friends and colleagues. ("Hawthorne, Nathaniel", American Writers II) Later that year he wrote his last completed novel, The Marble Faun, a romance.

Hawthorne started this vast literary career in 1836 when he accepted the editorship of The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge. Five years later, in 1841, he joined the Brook Farm Institute in 1841, a failed experiment where the Transcendentalists of the time attempted to put into practice their ideas of self-sufficiency and communal living. Shortly after arriving there, he invited his friend Henry David Thoreau to join, who declined. Aside from his consulship in England, Hawthorne traveled as little as possible saying, "New England is quite as large a lump of earth as my heart can really take." The two main foci of his life in New England were Raymond, Maine and Salem, Massachusetts. Raymond was like a summer of freedom where he ran free while Salem was the confining winter where he worked and experienced sober discipline. Hawthorne attributes his happiest times, however, to his time spent in what he called the Old Manse. The Old Manse was a large house in Concord that was once owned by his friend, Henry David Thoreau. He compared his days in the Old Manse to those of Adam in paradise. There he tended a garden of beans and summer squash that Thoreau had planted just before Hawthorne and his wife moved in, he studied German, and wrote little. He also bought Ralph Waldo Emerson's boat, the Mustketaquid of the Week for seven dollars from him after they went out on it together; he had admired the grace with which Emerson had rowed the boat and he later learned to navigate it himself with passable skill. But for the most part at the old Manse, he simply enjoyed.

Nathaniel Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864 Plymouth, New Hampshire on a trip with friend, classmate, and former President Franklin Pierce that was supposed to benefit his health after suffering bouts of dementia. After his death, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem entitled Hawthorne which spoke of his friend's "wand of magic power," the inexplicable ability of Hawthorne not only to write stories almost as fast as they could be printed, but his ability to give everything in those stories a hidden meaning or motive that plays a hidden but integral part of the story. In the end he left a legacy of being the first of American authors to dig deeply into his characters to find hidden motivations for their actions. His profound use of allegory incorporated not just global symbols like love and hate, but also personal ghosts ranging from his family and the Witch trials to his present emotional state.

Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Themes

Nathaniel Hawthorne was very interested in themes with religious undertones. The sin of interfering with another's soul particularly captivated him, and he explored it in several of his works. It was one of the ideas behind "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," in which he showcased the pain inflicted on those who are taken advantage of. It was also a theme of The Scarlet Letter, where the torture was wrought on both parties. This idea of playing god truly took center stage, however, in "The Birthmark." "The sin of interfering with another's soul," as a theme, is shown in all its different forms and is looked at from all angles by Hawthorne.

In "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," four old friends are taken advantage of in the interest of science and philosophy. Dr. Heidegger brings his confidants the water from the fountain of youth and asks that they drink. They drink and become young. Upon regaining their strength and vigor, however, the lab rats of Heidegger's experiment remake the mistakes of their past. Even with the benefit of wisdom gained through age, youth corrupts. Thankfully, mercifully, the effects soon wear off, and they are once again withered.

"Yes! they were old again. With a shuddering impulse, that showed her a woman still, the widow clasped her skinny hands before her face, and wished that the coffin lid were over it, since it could be no longer beautiful" Hawthorne, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"

While the folly of these people is given the most attention to, one must not forget Heidegger himself. That very singular man, Dr. Heidegger brought pain and anguish upon those who trusted him. He essentially played god, toying with the natural order of things and the very souls of his friends. He took no risk, not drinking the water, but he irreversibly corrupted the minds and hearts of others. Heidegger learns the lesson,

"But the doctor's four friends had taught no such lesson to themselves. They resolved forthwith to make a pilgrimage to Florida, and quaff at morning, noon, and night, from The Fountain of Youth" Hawthorne, "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment"

Hawthorne has extrapolated on the idea of "The sin of interfering with another's soul," and the effects it has on others.

In The Scarlet Letter, however, Hawthorne is more even-handed. Here the "interferer" suffers along with the "interferee," as it were. Mr. Dimmesdale, having committed adultery and unable to admit it, becomes a shell of a man, and a sickly one at that. Roger Chillingworth, the new town physician, takes it upon himself to discover Dimmesdale's dark secret. He devotes his life to the task, and seeks no other goal's fulfillment:

"Never know him! Believe me, Hester, there are few things,- whether in the outward world, or, to a certain depth, in the invisible sphere of thought,- few things hidden from the man, who devotes himself earnestly and unreservedly to the solution of a mystery" Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, p. 67

He judges the source of Dimmesdale's torture, and afflicts Dimmesdale further. Dimmesdale is not the only victim of Chillingworth, though. Chillingworth himself becomes inhuman, and even comes to represent the devil at times.

In the beginning of the tale, Chillingworth is a good, intellectual man who has been wronged by his wife and an unknown adulterer. As the plot unfolds, he interferes with another's soul. And that is where things go wrong for him. The theme is unmistakable, and very intriguing. Here Hawthorne explores the thought that this action, infringing on another's soul, harms any and all parties involved.

In "The Birthmark," Hawthorne takes another look at this theme. This time, however, he takes it to extremes. Georgiana, a woman of great beauty and personality, has but one defect: a birthmark on her face in the shape of a hand. Aylmer, her husband, and also a scientist of great ability, is horribly troubled by this imperfection. He believes in flawlessness.

"Dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection" Hawthorne, "The Birthmark"

Georgiana is easily convinced, and permits Aylmer to attempt to remove the hand. In doing this, he is obviously committing the sin of interfering with another's soul, as so many characters do in Hawthorne's world.

In "The Birthmark," Hawthorne takes the view that doing this is equivalent to playing god, similar to the stance he takes in "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment." Hawthorne believed that no good could come of such an enterprise. And, indeed, Aylmer is punished for what he does to Georgiana. For once she becomes perfect, she dies, leaving Aylmer alone. One is not to interfere with someone else's heart or mind. But if one does, the consequences are dire.

Nathaniel Hawthorne explored the theme of "The sin of interfering with another's soul" in many of his stories, and certainly tried to convince the reader of his opinion. The punishments suffered are different in each tale, in order to illustrate Hawthorne"s view. In The Scarlet Letter, both Dimmesdale and Chillingworth are destroyed. In "Dr. Heidegger's experiment," Heidegger's four friends are ruined by his meddling. And in "The Birthmark," Hawthorne displays the ultimate loss of someone who went too far. Hawthorne sought to enlighten us to the folly of interfering with the soul, or the true nature, of another person.

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