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The 19th Century Prose of Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's 19th Century Prose

 

     Nathaniel Hawthorne, a master of American fiction, often utilizes

dreams within the annals of his writings to penetrate, explore and express

his perceptions of  the complex moral and spiritual conflicts that plague

mankind.  His clever, yet crucial purpose for using dreams is to represent,

through symbolism, the human divergence conflict manifested in the souls of

man during the firm Christian precepts of the Era in which he lived.  As a

visionary in an extremely conservative Puritanical society, he carefully

and successfully manages to depict humanity's propensity for sin and

secrecy, and any resulting punishment or atonement by weaving dreams into

his tales.  The dreams he refers to in many of his writings are heavily

symbolic due to his Christian foundation, and they imply that he views most

dreams as a pigmentation of reality.  Hawthorne's ability to express and

subsequently bring to fruition the true state of man's sinful nature by

parallelling dreams with reality represents not only his religious beliefs

but also his true mastery of observation regarding the human soul.

 

     An examination of Hawthorne's own narrative in his short story, The

Birthmark, published in 1850 during the latter part of the period of

Puritanism expands his observations of mankind with keen insight.

 

 

                Truth often finds its way to the mind close-muffled

                in robes of sleep, and then speaks with uncompromising

                directness of matters in regard to which we practice

                an unconscious self-deception, during our waking

                moments.   (par.15)

 

The prophetic statement was made by Hawthorne to open the reader's mind and

perhaps inject an introspective glimpse of  his perspective that dreams do

indeed contain precursors or warnings of future conscious realities.  He

also contends that people often purposely disregard the contents of their

dreams and do not face the realities that they are confronted with while in

unconscious moments of slumber.   Hawthorne's writings are marked by

intrinsic depth and a sincere desire to crawl inside of the characters he

has created.  He accomplishes this objective by allowing them to dream.

He makes his presence known by frequently commenting openly throughout his

prose and interject a narrative of his assertions.   Hawthorne historically

has his characters confront reality following a dream, or he reveals that

the whole ordeal that his characters have faced are, in fact, dreams.

Hawthorne nudges the reader to conclude that dreams can sometimes solve

conflicts that are many times categorically denied while oneis awake.

Hawthorne expresses the fact that dreams are possibly warnings and that

often mankind does not heed them.    His profound statement about dreams

suggests that by paying attention to the sleeping imagination, a person

might reconcile adverse moral behavior and establish more balance and

clarity of reality while they are awake.

 

      The Bible was a direct source of reference for Hawthorne.  He grew up

reading and studying religious concepts.  In the Book of Job, Elihu's

speech to Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar expresses Hawthorne's belief in

God's "answer" to mankind's sinfulness.

 

           For God speaks again and again, in dreams, in visions of

           the night when deep sleep falls on men as they lie on their

           beds.  He opens their ears in times like that, and gives

           them wisdom and instruction, causing them to change their

           minds, and keeping them from pride, and warning them of the

           penalties of sin, and keeping them from falling into some

           trap.    (Book of Job 33:14-18)

 

Elihu's speech and other similar biblical scripture were part of

Hawthorne's personal conceptual beliefs.   His foundation consisted of

these early Puritanical Christian precepts.  These teachings reveal the

significance as to the reason he believed dreams to be a reflection of the

waking mind and subsequent approaching events.  The Bible was considered

the law among Puritanists and sacred biblical history is threaded  with

incidents of dream prophecy.  The mystery that surrounds human existence

and the need to trust God was imbedded in Hawthorne's own infrastructure at

a profound level.  Hawthorne believed that mankind simply did not have

enough knowledge to explain why things happen the way they do, and that

people do not so much need answers to life's problems, as they need God

Himself.  Hawthorne created angles in his writings by identifying sin and

secrecy that were imbued in the ecclesiastical and hypocritical

conventionalities of his day and paralleled this with biblical prophecy and

references.   Hawthorne was raised on the biblical teachings of Christ and

he astutely perceived that doubt and temptation marred moral instincts in

mankind.  It is apparent that Hawthorne believed that God, through a

person's spiritual self, approaches them while they are asleep to impress

upon them His instructions.  Hawthorne's tendency to project his ideals

into his characters by having them dream encourages his readers to

recognize God's laws.

 

     Julian Hawthorne, son of Nathaniel, recognized and documented his

father's utilization of dreams by writing volumes of notes pertaining to

many of his short stories.  In Julian Hawthorne's,  Nathaniel Hawthorne and

His Wife, Volume I, Chapter 9--Notes for Stories and Essays, Julian takes

note of the specific injection of dreams in his father's tales.

 

           To write a dream which shall resemble the real course of

           a dream, with all its inconsistency, its strange

           transformations, which are all taken as a matter of course;

           its eccentricities and aimlessness, --with nevertheless a

           leading idea running through the whole.  Up to this old age

           of the world, no such thing has ever been written.   (Par. 4)

 

Hawthorne lived in an era of Christian premise which disallowed him to

verbally voice observations and subsequent opinions of  his perceptions

regarding man's sinful and secret nature.  The Puritanistic attitudes were

firmly rooted in the communities of his day.  These attitudes were regarded

with a stern morality, that anything pleasurable or luxuriously indulgent

was sinful.  He cleverly wove dreams into his writing to expose, without

compromising his Christian stature,  that hipocracy and sin was rampant in

the hostile Puritan environment.  It is important to note that Hawthorne

could not openly voice his observations of mankind for fear of persecution.

The dreams he wove into his stories were a shrewd outlet for his

convictions.   Hawthorne was at the forefront of a pioneering effort to

couple biblical laws with creatively written stories as an art form.   It

is historically known that Hawthorne is one of the first major American

writers of fiction to focus on the interior lives of his characters and

express his biblical views through what was considered the deeper

psychology of art.  His son, Julian, clearly recognizes this logic and

specifically details the fact that his father uses dreams as a way of

revealing these concepts.

 

     In many of Hawthorne's chronicles it is apparent that he significantly

believes that dreams are a window into a person's soul.  His writings

reveal many major truths that people do not openly admit; their proclivity

to give in to evil through secrecy and denial and ignore God laws in the

process.   His personal beliefs were that there was an existence of an

active evil, most likely the devil, and that people were predestined to be

constrained by him.   Throughout much of his prose, Hawthorne's dreams can

be considered a pious warning for his characters to recognize what propels

them to commit sin  in their waking moments or perhaps advise them of

impending evil and sin.  It is also through this use of dreams,  that

Hawthorne gently coerces his readers to explore their own inner souls and

search for truths within the confounds of their dreams.    He recurrently

allows the reader to make a personal decision as to the purpose for the

story.  This can be compared to how one makes a personal decision to follow

God's Holy laws.   Hawthorne's divine implications are paramount in

exposing the conflicts that mankind encounters when choosing between good

and evil.  Through the expression of dreams, he masterfully generates

reverent introspection and opens the window into the human soul.  It is

known that dreams provide a person with a unique view of themselves that

often comes from a deeper and wiser part of their psyche.   It can be

concluded that a  person should seek to counterbalance their dreams with

conscious waking perceptions.   This is akin to Hawthorne's style of

writing and his unique way of presenting human truths.  It is perhaps best

to agree with the French writer, Michel de Montaigne that,  "Dreams are the

true interpreters of our inclinations..."

 

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