The objective of this work is to examine Nathaniel Hawthorne's works and to conduct a comparison of the life of Hawthorne to his short stories and to examine how his life and his works paralleled one another.
The life of Nathaniel Hawthorne many times was played out in his stories as his life events and experiences bled forth into his works demonstrating the struggles that the writer faced within himself and his own life. Running through the threads of the stories of Hawthorne is the theme of Puritanism and this is clearly perceived as one reads the stories of Hawthorne entitled "The Scarlet Letter," "The Minister's Black Veil and "The Birthmark." In order to understand Hawthorne's view it is necessary that one understand what Puritanism is, believes, and represents.
Puritanism was first presented in the works of William Tyndale (1495-1536) as well as in the work of John Hooper (d.1555) who had held that the English reformation was far too slow in advancing. During the time between the reign of Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell's death, was the time that Puritanism bloomed forth evidenced in the work of Cartwright (1535-1603 and Perkins (1558-1602) two Puritan philosophers. That which served to differentiate Puritanism and the Anglican Church was formulated during this time as well.
Puritans, upon their failure in the English reformation made a decision to construct a Puritan community that could serve as a model. The location chosen was that of New England which began the 'Great Migration' in 1620 as these 'extremists' set out for Plymouth. (Rummel, 1996, p.1) In actuality, the Puritans were successful in reforming both England and the English church but it was too much too soon and things turned on the movement of Puritanism. The parliamentary opposition of the Puritans against the royal court in what is described as "...open warfare against Charles I in 1640 resulted in the Puritans loss of both "their power and influence." (Rummel, 1996, p.1)
The Puritans were persecuted along with the Republicans, Presbyterians and Quakerians, their services prohibited and Puritans were banned from visiting the universities. In fact, approximately 100 individuals who attended Puritans services in 1567 were arrested with 15 being sentenced to prison. The Puritans migrated from England so they could freely practice their religion. The Puritans believed in predestination for salvation and that while man could not save himself that he could make improvement to his own soul. Puritans were hard workers and attempted to live morally with many of them quite wealthy due to their zest for work. Puritans valued education highly. While religiously strict, the Puritans were very tolerant. The example stated by Rommel is that Puritans "condemned the drunkard, but not the consumption of alcohol itself.
This is all-important as Nathaniel Hawthorne was born into a long line of Puritans. The cruelty of his own family affected Hawthorne greatly as he attempted to disseminate the beliefs of the Puritans and the fact that his ancestors had participated in the Quaker (witch) persecution and participated in torture and sentence accused witches to death. Specifically stated in the work of Rummel, Hawthorne "tried to find distance from this face of Puritanism and lived Puritan ideology and philosophy in his own way." (Rummel, 1996, p.1) Hawthorne believed that the "devil was evil in everybody. It makes people blind so they are not able to recognize the evil in themselves." (Rummel, 1996, p.1)
Hawthorne also is reported to have lost his father at the age of four when his father, "a sea captain was lost at sea." (Kesterson, nd, p.1) This resulted in Hawthorne being "denied a father for a goodly part of his youth." (Kesterson, nd, p.1) Hawthorne did however, have two uncles, specifically, Robert and Richard Manning, who served as surrogate fathers. It is reported that Melville reviewed Hawthorne's works stating that Hawthorne's nature and spirit evinced in the tales "argue such a depth of tenderness, such a boundless sympathy with all forms of being, such an omnipresent love, that we must needs say that this Hawthorne is here almost alone in his generation." (Kesterson, nd, p.1) Melville goes on to say that Hawthorne has
"a great, deep intellect which drops down into the universe like a plummet." (Kesterson, nd, p.1)
Melville then proposes:
"this great power of blackness in him derives its force from its appeal to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance" (Kesterson, nd, p.1)
II. The Birthmark
Hawthorne's story entitled "The Birthmark" has a background rooted in history as a man by the name of Sir Kenelin Digby (1603-1664) killed his wife in a similar operation as the one that Aylmer performed on Georgiana. Hawthorne displays a great distrust for science and scientist just as he did for politics and politicians. This story involves a beautiful woman whose husband believes that she is perfect, except for one minor flaw and that being a birthmark on her cheek. Georgiana was content with the way that she looked but her husband's horror as he looked at her birthmark caused her to shrink away from his gaze many times throughout the story as she understands how horrible he feels the birthmark looks. The science practiced by Aylmer is that of alchemy which is halfway between science and magic. Aylmer, in his attempt to make Georgiana perfect is trying to act as though he is God. Georgiana's desire to become what her husband wanted resulted in her agreeing to let him operate on her and ultimately led to her death. However, even as she was dying she maintained that her husband had done well as she stated
"You have aimed loftily! -- you have done nobly! Do not repent, that, with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best that earth could offer." (Hawthorne, nd)
It is clear that Hawthorne if not having derision for science, deeply feared the potential of science in the lives of humankind. Hawthorne's description of the room where Aylmer mixes his potions is one that is dark and overbearing and one that reeks of some kind of evil. Words are used by Hawthorne in relation to Aylmer including 'faith', 'holy', 'heavenly' and Aylmer appears to have transformed science into some type of religious practice. Aylmer attempts to deal with evil as though he is some type of god in his attempt to make perfection on earth. What Aylmer fails to realize is that perfection on earth is not possible. The cost for Aylmer's search for perfection or indeed for the removal of Georgiana's birthmark is her death and as noted by Hawthorne as he spoke of the earth, the:
"great creative mother…is yet severely careful to keep her own secrets." (Hawthorne, nd)
The only Puritan element that is found in Aylmer in this story of Hawthorne's is the endurance of Aylmer as he took so very long in his attempt to make Georgiana perfect.
III. The Minister's Black Veil
Hawthorne's story "The Minister's Black Veil" begins by explaining that the minister in this story, a Mr. Hooper had accidentally killed one of his childhood friends and had since that event began wearing a black veil on his face. The story relates the shock and horror of his congregation the first time that they see him wearing the black crape that hung just to his mouth and relates as well how this mild-mannered minister transformed due to his appearance in the black veil. The sermon that Mr. Hooper preached was one on "secret sin, and those sad mysteries which we hide from our nearest and dearest and would fain conceal from our own consciousness, even forgetting that the Omniscient can detect them." (Hawthorne, nd) It is related that as the people exited the church and entered into the sunlight that the ominous feeling dispersed. As the minister came out of the church behind his congregation, there were not the usual invitations to Sunday dinner and the physician of the village remarked:
"Something must surely be amiss with Mr. Hooper's intellects, But the strangest part of the affair is the effect of this vagary, even on a sober-minded man like myself. The black veil, though it covers only our pastor's face, throws its influence over his whole person, and makes him ghostlike from head to foot." (Hawthorne, nd)
The minister's wife agrees stating:
"…I would not be alone with him for the world. I wonder he is not afraid to be alone with himself."
This story relates how Mr. Hooper attended the burial ceremony of a young maiden who died and later in the day marries a young couple and when raising a glass of wine to toast the young couple catches sight of himself in the mirror and the story relates that Mr.…