One of Nathaniel Hawthorne's
melancholic tales about Puritan life and
requisite intolerance. The story dips into the violent conflict between Quakers and Puritans in early colonial America. The gentle boy is Ibrahim, an
orphaned Quaker discovered by a sympathetic Puritan,
Tobias Pearson. Pearson takes pity on the boy, who sits
shivering over the grave of his freshly-executed father.
Sheltering Ibrahim causes Pearson and his wife
trouble among the Puritan community, while Ibrahim
is scorned by the local urchins.
Hawthorne makes some striking suggestions about
the persecution of the Quakers. At the beginning
of the piece he claims that Quakers were drawn
toward to the New World to face persecution
intentionally. He also draws a contrast between
the kind treatment Ibrahim's family received in
Islamic Turkey and the harsher variety in
British North America.
One of my favorite passages in the story is the
monologue of Ibrahim's mother, Catharine, before a
congregation of Puritan churchgoers.
But I say unto ye, Woe to them that slay!
Woe to them that shed the blood of saints! Woe to them
that have slain the husband, and cast forth the
child, the tender infant, to wander homeless and
hungry and cold, till he die; and have saved the
mother alive, in the cruelty of their tender
mercies! Woe to them in their lifetime! Cursed are
they in the delight and pleasure of their hearts!
Woe to them in their death hour, whether it come
swiftly with blood and violence, or after long and
lingering pain! Woe, in the dark house, in the
rottenness of the grave, when the children's
children shall revile the ashes of the fathers!
Woe, woe, woe, at the judgment, when all the
persecuted and all the slain in this bloody land,
and the father, the mother, and the child, shall
await them in a day that they cannot escape! Seed
of the faith, seed of the faith, ye whose hearts
are moving with a power that ye know not, arise,
wash your hands of this innocent blood! Lift your
voices, chosen ones; cry aloud, and call down a
woe and a judgment with me!
Catharine is the most dynamic character in the story,
because she wells with emotion and is prone to reckless abandon. You can almost feel her writhing in desperation.
The best way to read this story is to search your
favorite abandoned bookshelf or local library for
an old volume of Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales in
which the pages have begun to yellow slightly and the binding leaves a faint trace of powder on your palms.
Once the text is in hand, procure comfortable seating
in a gloomily-lit room prone to low traffic and the sound of cold rain beating upon at its borders. If this proves unreasonable, the benevolence of copyright law has declared that enough time has passed for the rights to Hawthorne's works to be given into public hands, so one may seek "The Gentle Boy" and other Hawthorne stories on Project Gutenberg. And one should.