Hawthorne marks his characters as potential usurpers of God who are undermined by an inability to negotiate with human chaos. Confronted with examples of imperfection or fragmentation, the scientific minds of "The Birthmark," "Rappaccini¹s Daughter," and "Ethan Brand" attempt to efface or fuse flaws as they seek an impossible ideal of total encapsulation and order. Unsatisfied with writing a Psalm, they try to script the entire Bible. This analogy is not incidental, the three stories are all, to some extent, revisions of the Garden of Eden tale. The trio attempts to reconfigure Original Sin, either by blotting it out or by internalizing and conquering sin to the point of self-deification. The latter is particularly key for Hawthorne, a writer who crafts his prose with immaculate precision and detail, ostensibly the marks of the omniscient narrator.
Yet Hawthorne concedes the impossibility of full comprehension of a character, or at least his unwillingness to seek such a conclusive appraisal, and consequently refrains from directing the reader to a similar resolution.
Fragmentation runs through "Ethan Brand," so much that the story is subtitled "A Chapter From an Abortive Romance." The fragments come to resemble irreconcilable pieces of nature. Framed by images of Bartram¹s son playing with the "scattered fragments of marble" and of Bartram shattering Brand¹s "relicsŠinto fragments," Hawthorne employs the occupation of lime-burner as a central metaphor of Brand¹s search for the Unpardonable Sin (271, 287). Brand¹s "Idea first developed" as a reaction to the processes of his profession, in which "blocks and fragments of marble" are converted to lime (272). The ...
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... had indeed found the Unpardonable Sin" (279).
If Brand is unsure, perhaps Hawthorne is as well. This may explain the subtitles of inclusion, as in "Ethan Brand," or "[From the Writings of Aubépine]" from "Rappaccini¹s Daughter." By acknowledging their status as small parts of (fictitious) greater works, Hawthorne denies any possibility that each story is the final word. Instead, he embraces the fragments as individual perspectives which may or may not reveal reality. Since each perspective is faulty, the only way to assure is an impossibly "objective" view is through such a perspectival collage. This may help explain why Hawthorne wrote as many short stories collections in his lifetime as novels‹better for a dozen or so chaotic pairs of eyes to assess truth than an authorial Cyclops, lacking depth perception.
The Birthmark, Rappaccini’s Daughter Ethan Brand
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