The Psychological Dimension of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birthmark

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The Psychological Dimension of “The Birthmark”

This essay will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” in order to demonstrate that it is a “psychological” short story both in its themes and in its emphasis on the moral-psychological aspect of the main characters.

There is probably unanimity among literary critics that Hawthorne is a “psychological” writer. Consider some of their statements chosen at random from various critiques of Hawthorne’s literary works: Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” says:

What he wrote of New England was . . . .the subconscious mind of New England. It was. . . . unforgettable case histories of men and women afflicted by guilt, or, as he called it, by “a stain upon the soul.”. . . .

His were grave and acute reflections upon the way in which the Puritan mind worked. . . .” (43)

Edmund Fuller and B. Jo Kinnick in “Stories Derived from New England Living” state that Hawthorne liked to “explore uncertainties of belief that trouble a man’s heart and mind” (31). Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography” states that Hawthorne’s interest tended toward the heart and the psychological effects of these moral and ethical issues” (13). A. N. Kaul considers Hawthorne “preeminently a ‘psychological’” writer – “burrowing, to his utmost ability, into the depths of our common nature, for the purposes of psychological romance. . . . He was deeply preoccupied with the modern themes of alienation, isolation, and guilt consciousness – and with modern spiritual problems generally” (2). There appears to be more agreement among literary critics regarding the interpretation of Hawthorne as a “psychological” writer than upon any other aspect of his writing.
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...athaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Melville, Herman. “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” The Literary World August 17, 24, 1850. http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/hahm.html

Peckham, Morse. “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

Waggoner, Hyatt. “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” In Six American Novelists of the Nineteenth Century, edited by Richard Foster. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968.

Williams, Stanley T. “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.

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