Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” may require a psychoanalyst to properly interpret because it is indeed a “psychological” short story in its themes and approach to character portrayal - and this essay will amply demonstrate these assertions.
Henry Seidel Canby in “A Skeptic Incompatible with His Time and His Past” talks about the value of Hawthorne’s “literary psychology”:
This irreverent generation [of the 1950’s] has mocked at Hawthorne’s struggling souls who torture themselves over peccadilloes like adultery and are morally wrecked by obsessions that (so it is assumed) any good psychoanalyst could remove. Studies in nerves seem to us more important than studies in morals, and certainly we are right in supposing that common sense and a working knowledge of science would have prevented half the casualties of literature. Hawthorne might retort by saying that without a moral sense you have of course no moral tragedies, and an observer of both epochs might add that the value of his literary psychology lies not in the deeds analyzed but in the picture of a struggle between right and wrong where the state of mind of the characters in conflict is immensely significant without regard to the rightness of what they think right or the wrongness of what they think wrong (62).
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 afflic...
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... Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
McPherson, Hugo. “Hawthorne’s Use of Mythology.” In Readings on Nathaniel 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.
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