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Essay on Earth's Holocaust and The Birthmark

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Essay on Earth's Holocaust and The Birthmark

 

Hawthorne knew that all men are defective. Earth's Holocaust is his most striking statement of the theme, but every story and novel is based on that premise. Those who ignore human imperfection in their planning become, like Aylmer of The Birthmark, destroyers rather than creators. From his knowledge of universal depravity came and not as paradoxically as it may seem a humility and a sense of social solidarity too often lacking in our young critics of society. The society with which he was concerned was a wider society. As we have noted, his people are often ''saved'' through love for one other person. The heart is touched by love, bringing warmth, or ''reality." But the saved one does not then withdraw with his loved one in a society of the elect; he does not join a Brook Farm or a commune. He returns to the larger society, to what Lewis calls "the tribe." He is defective and incomplete-as it is defective and incomplete; he needs it as it needs him. Thus love unites Phoebe and Holgrave, but also serves the larger social purpose of uniting two warring families, displacing hate by love and "cleansing'' a cursed house. Love for Clifford brings Hepzibah out of destructive pride and isolation into intercourse with the world. Hester is saved at the end not by the "consecration of its own" she once thought blessed her union with Dimmesdale, not by escape into ...


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...ch somehow we all bear complicity, and with both joy and trouble intensifed by love, linking us to others who share in the human condition.

          With such distinctions, we can hardly call Hawthorne a true and complete hippie. Neither can we deny that he shared the hippies' aversions and the most essential of their desires. We can see him as relevant the word is useful if overworked even to the hippie generation. To do so we need those qualities in which he was strongest: humility to accept as equals and as like ourselves people of all classes, ages, and times, and historical imagination to see essential likeness of one time to another beneath their superficial differences. 


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