Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dark Romantic


ENG 223: American Literature Before 1865

Lesson 10: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dark Romantic
Oct. 21-25, 2002


By the end of this lesson, you should be able to do each of the following without consulting notes or other resources:

  • Describe the life and literary contributions of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • Interpret themes and other features in Hawthorne’s short fiction.
  • Define or identify relevant terms, names, and dates.


Before coming to class on Monday, you should complete the following assignments:


Read “Nathaniel Hawthorne,” “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and “Young Goodman Brown.”



Our class activities this week include the following:


Think Fast: In a paragraph (100 words), analyze the setting of one of Hawthorne’s stories.  How does the setting complement the action and themes in the story?

Presentation: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Dark Romantic (Professor Canada)

Workshop: During this time, I will show you how to set up your author project.

Cooperative Learning

Evil: Drawing on both “Young Goodman Brown” and “Rappaccinni’s Daughter,” discuss the nature of evil, as explored by Hawthorne.

Setting: Building on your “Think Fast” exercise, discuss the role of the setting in each story we read.

Relationships: Characterize the relationships in the stories.  What has drawn these people together?  What keeps them together?  What might threaten to separate them?

Symbolism: Like his contemporaries Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne made extensive use of symbols in his fiction.  Identify one such symbol in each story and discuss its possible meanings.

Discussion: During this time, we will discuss the insights and questions that have emerged during our reading, “Think Fast” exercise, my presentation, and cooperative learning.

Think Again: Citing evidence from works by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, discuss the power of the imagination in human life.

Conferences: While the rest of you are working on the “Think Again” exercise, I will meet with some of you in one-on-one conferences.  During this time, I will review some of your writing, orally quiz you on lesson objectives, and field your questions.

Announcements: We will wrap up this lesson with announcements regarding upcoming lessons, as well as other relevant subjects.

Names and Terms

Make sure you know the meaning and significance of each of the following:

  • Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • symbol
  • setting


You can find more information about the subject covered in this lesson by consulting the resource listed below:

All American: Nathaniel Hawthorne features a chronology, study questions, and more.

Updated October 18, 2002
Mark Canada, 2002


Having safely escaped the House of Usher, we encounter more darkness and terror this week as we enter the world of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  On a somewhat less terrifying note—at least, I hope—we will spend a portion of Monday’s class working on your author projects.  Please bring a diskette containing your index page, along with your notes on your author, to Dial 149, where I will show you how to set up your author project.


Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864

Like his contemporary Herman Melville, whom he knew, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote some of the best-known and most respected fiction in American literature. A short-story writer who turned to novels in the middle of his career, Hawthorne produced classic examples in each form, including the short stories "Young Goodman Brown" and "Rappaccini's Daughter" and the novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.

Hawthorne shares other qualities with Melville, as well as Edgar Allan Poe. All three took a special interest in human psychology. The later American novelist Henry James, who also explored the mind in his fiction, wrote: "The fine thing in Hawthorne is that he cared for the deeper psychology, and that, in his way, he tried to become familiar with it" (140). Of particular interest to Hawthorne was the nature of evil. Indeed, in an essay called "Hawthorne and His Mosses," Melville betrayed his own fascination with the darkness in colleague's work, writing that half of Hawthorne is "shrouded in a blackness, ten times black" (678). As The Scarlet Letter, "Young Goodman Brown," "The Minister's Black Veil," and other works demonstrate, Hawthorne's studies of evil often coincide with his studies of religion, particularly Puritanism, which his ancestors in Salem practiced in the 17th century. Like his two famous contemporaries, Hawthorne also made extensive use of symbols. His scarlet letter ranks alongside Melville's white whale and Poe's pit and pendulum, and symbols play important roles in all of his important short stories, including "The Birthmark," "The Artist of the Beautiful," and "My Kinsman, Major Molineux." Furthermore, Hawthorne's works often hint of the supernatural, the unreal, or the uncommon. Hawthorne might have spoken for both Melville and Poe when he wrote in his introduction to The House of the Seven Gables that the "romance," a word he used to contrast his form of long fiction from the novel, may "present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation." The romance writer, he explains, may "mingle the Marvellous" in his work. Hawthorne sometimes used the metaphor of everyday objects seen in moonlight to explain the material of the romance. In "The Custom-house," an essay that precedes The Scarlet Letter, he writes that the atmosphere of a parlor at night suggested to him the world of romance--a region between reality and imagination. The ordinary objects he sees there "are so spiritualized by the unusual light, that they seem to lose their actual substance, and become things of intellect." Finally, Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe all reacted against the major literary and philosophical movement of the day, Transcendentalism. Hawthorne, for example, tried to live at Brook Farm, a community experiment begun by some Transcendentalists, but was repelled by what he perceived as hypocrisy and excessive idealism--flaws he chronicled in his roman clef about the experience, The Blithedale Romance.

One of Hawthorne's distinctive concerns is that of separating head and heart, intellect and soul. In his notebooks, he wrote that an unpardonable sin is "a want of love and reverence for the Human Soul; in consequence of which, the investigator pried into its dark depths, not with a hope or purpose of making it better, but from a cold philosophical curiosity,--content that it should be wicked in whatever kind or degree, and only desiring to study it out. Would not this, in other words, be the separation of the intellect from the heart." Hawthorne explored these ideas extensively in the short story "Ethan Brand," and they also help to shape The Scarlet Letter, "The Artist of the Beautiful," and "Rappaccini's Daughter."  


In our next lesson, we will complete our tour of American Romanticism with a look at a writer whom Nathaniel Hawthorne heavily influenced, Herman Melville.