Hawthorne Writing Style
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Nathaniel Hawthorne was a prominent early American Author who
contributed greatly to the evolution of modern American literature. A
New England native, Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July
4, 1804 and died on May 19, 1864 in New Hampshire. An avid seaman,
Hawthorne^s father died in 1808 when Nathaniel Hawthorne was only a
young child. After his father^s death, Hawthorne showed a keen
interest in his father^s worldwide nautical adventures and often read
the logbooks his father had compiled from sailing abroad. Hawthorne
was a descendant of a long line of New England Puritans, which sparked
his interest in the Puritan way of life. After he graduated from
Bowdoin College in 1825, Hawthorne returned to his home in Salem were
he began to write in semi-seclusion. Hawthorne published his first
novel, Fanshawe in 1828. In 1839, Hawthorne was appointed weigher and
gauger at the Boston Custom House. He later married Sophia Amelia
Peabody in 1842. In the following years, Hawthorne wrote his more
famous novels which shaped his own literary style, as well as the
genres of the romance novel and short story. Eventually, Hawthorne
developed a style of romance fiction representative of his own
beliefs. Although Nathaniel Hawthorne^s writing style was often viewed
as outdated when compared to modern literature, Hawthorne conveyed
modern themes of psychology and human nature through his crafty use of
allegory and symbolism. To begin with, Hawthorne^s style was
commonplace for a writer of the nineteenth century. During the time
period in which Hawthorne wrote, printing technology was not yet
advanced enough to easily reproduce photographs in books. Therefore,
Hawthorne frequently wrote lengthy visual descriptions since his
audience had no other means to see the setting of the novel. (Magill:1
840). One example of such descriptions was in The Scarlet Letter when
Hawthorne intricately describes the prison door and its surroundings.
Another aspect of Hawthorne^s writing which was exclusive to his time
period was the use of formal dialogue which remained fairly consistent
from character to character (Magill:2 140). Such overblown dialogue
was evident in The Scarlet Letter when the dialogue of Pearl, a young
child, exhibited no difference from the dialogue of the other
characters in the novel. Hawthorne adopted the use of overly formal
dialogue partly from a British writer, Sir Walter Scott, whose works
were popular in the United States and Great Britain (Magill:1 841).
Although Hawthorne^s dialogue was overly formal, it was an accurate
tool in describing human emotion (Gale). Absence of character
confrontation was another component of Hawthorne^s literary style.
Hawthorne frequently focused more on a character^s inner struggle or a
central theme than on heated encounters between characters (Gale). One
example of this style can be found in The Scarlet Letter since the
novel was almost solely based on the commandment ^Thou shall not commit
adultery^ (Magill:1 846). Despite dated dialogue and dated writing
style, Hawthorne implied various modern themes in his works. One of
Hawthorne^s recurring themes throughout his works was his own view on
human nature. Hawthorne explored an interesting human psychology
through his exploration of the dark side of human consciousness
(Magill:1 841). In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne introduced ^a
profound comment on the breakdown of human relationships in the society
of the seventeenth century^ (Harris 304). Hawthorne^s theme that human
nature is full of wickedness was also evident in ^Young Goodman Brown^
when the title character encountered great difficulty in resisting
temptation (Magill:3 1143). One outstanding aspect found in
Hawthorne^s writing was the concept of neutral territory. Hawthorne
described this concept as ^a neutral territory, somewhere between the
real world and fairy-land where the actual and imaginary may meet, and
each imbue itself with the nature of the other^ (Litz 145). The
concept of neutral ground was most evident in the Custom House section
of The Scarlet Letter and served as the area in which romance took
place (Magill:1 1569). Hawthorne^s modern themes were also modeled by
Hawthorne^s own religious beliefs. Although it was not the only reason
Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, his Puritan background contributed
greatly to his portrayal of a sinner in a strict Puritan community
(Litz 157). Hawthorne also raised questions concerning the morality
and necessity of Hester Prynne^s exile in The Scarlet Letter. One
reason for these inquires was Hawthorne^s disbelief in heaven, hell,
angels, or devils since modern science was undermining the Bible
(Magill:2 847). Unlike the frankness commonly found in modern
twentieth century literature, the nature of literature in the
nineteenth century was more conservative. Therefore, Hawthorne implied
more modern themes through the use of symbolism. One of Hawthorne^s
most obvious symbols in The Scarlet Letter was Pearl, the living
product of the adulterous affair between Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester
Prynne. Even though some of Hawthorne^s symbols were fantastical, they
represented an anachronistic moral standpoint of Hawthorne himself.
(Gale) An example of this symbolism was Hester^s moral sin of adultery
symbolized by an overly ornate scarlet ^A^ on Hester^s breast. In
fact, few authors who worked outside realism have been as concerned
with morals as Hawthorne was. (Magill:2 1572). Hawthorne also employed
allegory as a way of presenting themes. Hawthorne often achieved
allegory by placing characters in a situation outside of the ordinary
(Magill:2 1572). In The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne presented a highly
complex variation on his usual theme of human isolation and the human
community (Harris 304). Hester Prynne was a superb example of both
these themes since she was isolated from a strict Puritan community.
Possibly, Hawthorne^s recurring theme of isolation stemmed from his own
experience of seclusion (Gale). Hawthorne explored the themes of
penance for sins and cowardliness when Arthur Dimmesdale struggled with
himself to make his sin public. In conclusion, Hawthorne^s literary
style did indeed contain elements such as description and dialogue,
which seemed out of place when compared to modern twentieth century
literature. However, Hawthorne^s style was typical of the literary
style of the time. Nevertheless, Hawthorne addressed modern themes and
expressed his own view on human nature and religion. In addition,
Hawthorne^s symbolism was an essential tool in addressing topics, which
were too radical to be publicly addressed in the nineteenth century.
Therefore, Hawthorne^s symbolism an astute way to express his own
beliefs. Hawthorne also achieved a unique form of allegory by placing
characters in unusual situations. Hawthorne used various symbols to
imply themes of adultery, sins, and human morality. All in all,
Hawthorne deeply examined every facet of human nature and drew
conclusions from the experiences of the characters in his work.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter.
Fitzgerald, Sheila ed. Short Story Criticism. vol.4. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1989.
Gale ed. DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale Research Company , 1996.
Harris, Laurie Lanzen. Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism. vol. 54. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985.
Litz, Waltona ed. American Writers. New York:Charles Scriner^Òs Sons, 1998.
Magill, Frank N. ed. Magill^Òs Survey of American Literature. vol. 13. New York: Salem Press, 1991.
Magill, Frank N. ed. Critical Survey of Long Fiction. vol. 4 Pasadena, California: Salem Press, 1991.