Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne's use of symbols through much of his writing was caused primarily by his remarkable connection with a mysterious and supernatural plane of consciousness. This fact becomes evident even with just a cursory examination of one or more of his short stories. By using symbols, Hawthorne's ability to express things almost impossible to put into words was greatly increased. Many of the symbols used in "Young Goodman Brown" have both spiritual and mythical merit. It was as if Hawthorne was able to think with the mind of an uneducated peasant, the mind of a well-educated lawyer, and at the same level of shear brilliance of Plato all simultaneously.
"Symbolism and Allegory in Short Fiction" described the use of symbols as follows: "Authors want to find a way to express the inexpressible" (10M.). Again this film paralleled Hawthorne's style by explaining "So we take the abstract qualities of life and make them concrete by using symbols" (10M.). Was it possible that the great Nathaniel Hawthorne was schizophrenic? Did he weave such a layered web of words on purpose? I believe that his giant intellect allowed himself to overcome the common limitations of being a one plane thinker. He thought, read, wrote, and acted, on many different levels. Arlin Turner in "Nathaniel Hawthorne a Biography" stated this very fact:

Jonathan Cilley was probably his most intimate friend in the class; and yet his discrimination would lead him to say, ‘I love Hawthorne; I admire him; but I do not know him. He lives in a mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits me to enter.' (40)
This different mode of thought allowed him to create truth from fiction, turmoil from solidarity. By using ambiguous words he was able to create a real wife for Goodman Brown, while also creating a religious experience for Mr. Brown. The name alone is not really significant, but when coupled with the serious religious undertones of the text, it becomes crucial. Goodman Brown lost Faith. He lost his wife faith, the faith he held in his town, and at one point his faith in God's ability to protect those who choose to serve Him.

Saying that one believes in ghosts would to any normal person seem reasonable, but stating that one had witnessed a visible apparition might seem strange.

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Hawthorne who had close ties to the underworld, admitted on many different occasions to seeing Dr. Harris or more accurately the ghost of Dr. Harris. Wagenknecht states that "He himself described how he saw the ghost of old Dr. Harris not once but many times in his accustomed place at the Boston Arthenaeum" (181). It is no wonder then how he writes so freely and with such insight into things that many would shy away from trying to describe. His use of symbols only amplified this gift. Darrel Abel attempts to describe Hawthorne's writing style as:
His whole endeavor . . . was ‘to spiritualize matter'--to interpret what he called ‘the grand hieroglyphic' of the visible world not as the sociologist does, by drawing from it abstractions which would have their whole truth grounded in the tangibilities from which they are derived, but as a transient projection of an ideal world beyond, as merely phenomenal. (179)
In short, he sees the world through the eyes of a fractured and splintered brain. His brain was capable of seeing the big picture like someone with heightened paranoia. I have a feeling that he literally saw the spirit world running in tandem with our own. Hawthorne once said,
Moonlight, in a familiar room, . . . is a medium the most suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his illusive guests. . . . somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other. (Darrel 180)

Being in touch with the spirit world alone is not enough to create writing that can be felt rather than read. Hawthorne was a master of symbols, and the art of religious and socio-historic aspects of writing, but his understanding of myth was in my opinion more important and unequaled. McNeill in his essay "Rappaccini's Daughter" stated so well:
Interpretations of Hawthorne's texts are illuminated by focusing on the patterns of myth within his texts, making the interpretation richer than just by focusing on religious, symbolic, and socio-historic aspects of his work. . . . one should also look at the classical mythological aspects and not how he uses them--which would, in turn, illume the religious, symbolic, and socio-historical aspects of his work. (1)
Kirszner and Mandell agree with the idea that Hawthorne used simple truths of human nature to step closer to the "depths of our common nature" and "the truth of the hearth" (297).

Nathaniel Hawthorne's rich use of symbols to create multilevel works of fiction, gives strong indication that he was closer to the spiritual level of consciousness than most of the writers of his day. He could write a simple bedtime story that had many mythical, religious, or social interpretations for one reader, while giving another a short non life changing piece of fiction to fall asleep to. One very important part of Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing style was his ability to pay close attention to detail. He knew the difference between sloppy and immaculate writing. I have yet to read something by him that does not live up to his discerning eye. I believe that all of his works should be read with an open mind to the real value of the words, and not just to the pleasant reading.

Works Cited
Darrel, Abel. "Hawthorne's House of Tradition." South Atlantic Quarterly 4 Oct. 1953: 78-561.
Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell. Literature Reading Reacting Writing. 3rd ed. Ft. Worth: Harcourt, 1997.
McNeill, Dylan J. "Rappaccini's Daughter: From Mythological Monster to Martyr." J. Dylan McNeill. 1994. (4 Feb. 1999).
Symbolism and Allegory in Short Fiction. (VT4207). Videocassette. 30MM, S.D., Col., 2 Inch. 1992.
Turner, Arlin. Nathaniel Hawthorne A Biography. New York: Oxford University P, 1980.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Man and Writer. New York: Oxford UP, 1961.
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