By: Isaac Davis
Basic Biographical Information
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on the 4th of July, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, one of New England's oldest seaport towns. He lived for 60 years and died on May 19th, 1864. Nathaniel's last name was originally Hathorne but he switch it in order to differentiate himself from John Hathorne, a judge during the Salem witch trials. In 1808, Hawthorne's father died and the rest of his childhood upbringing was left in the hands of his mother. His father died of yellow fever, due to his sea-captain job. Hawthorne must have been much different from his father as their likes differ greatly. In order for him to pursue his education he needed financial support from his uncle, Robert Manning, who paid for Hawthorne to study at Bowdoin College. Nathaniel Hawthorne can be seen as an arrogant man when at age seventeen he thought he knew his purpose in life, which can be seen when he said, “I do not want to be a doctor and live by men's diseases, nor a minister to live by their sins, nor a lawyer and live by their quarrels. So, I don't see that there is anything left for me but to be and author." After college he stayed with his mother and from his journals, it can be assumed that he spent much time reading and writing. His studies at the local library led him to discover his families' Puritan past supplementing his family's influence in the colonies. The beginning of his writing career wasn't exactly a success story...his first short stories failed to even be published. His first actual novel, Fanshawe, was published in 1828 anonymously, but it did not receive much attention. Hawthorne's dedication was apparent but once again his short stories failed to be published. One of Nathaniel's friend from school convinced him to publish under his own name and without Hawthorne's knowledge put up money to guarantee any losses with the publisher, Samuel G. Goodrich. This sparked the beginning of Hawthorne's writing career and the rest is history.
Twice Told Tales (1837 )- A short story collection in two volumes.
Mosses From an Old Manse (1846)
The Scarlet Letter (1850)- A romantic work of fiction in Salem and Concord, Massachusetts; late 1840's. The narrator is an unnamed customhouse surveyor who writes some two hundred years after the events he describes took place. He has much in common with Hawthorne but should not be taken as a direct mouthpiece for the author’s opinions.
The House of the Seven Gables (1851)- Themes of this novel include: Sins of one generation are visited on the next, the deceptiveness of appearances, and social class status in New England.
The Marble Faun (1860)- This novel is significant because it was the last of the four major romances by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Major Themes and Subject Matter
Initiation: Involves the attempts of an alienated character to get rid of his isolated condition.
Characteristic Guilt: A character's sense of guilt forced by the puritanical heritage or by society; also guilt vs. innocence.
Pride: Hawthorne treats pride as evil. He illustrates the following aspects of pride in various characters.
Puritan New England: This setting is used as a background in many tales.
Italian background: This theme is especially seen in The Marble Faun.
Allegory: Hawthorne's writing is allegorical, didactic and moralistic.