Hawthorne Writing Style


Nathaniel Hawthorne was a prominent early American Author who

contributed greatly to the evolution of modern American literature. 

New England native, Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July

4, 1804 and died on May 19, 1864 in New Hampshire. An avid seaman,

Hawthorne^s father died in 1808 when Nathaniel Hawthorne was only a

young child. After his father^s death, Hawthorne showed a keen

interest in his father^s worldwide nautical adventures and often read

the logbooks his father had compiled from sailing abroad. Hawthorne

was a descendant of a long line of New England Puritans, which sparked

his interest in the Puritan way of life. After he graduated from

Bowdoin College in 1825, Hawthorne returned to his home in Salem were

he began to write in semi-seclusion. Hawthorne published his

novel, Fanshawe in 1828. In 1839, Hawthorne was appointed weigher

gauger at the Boston Custom House. He later married Sophia Amelia

Peabody in 1842. In the following years, Hawthorne wrote his

famous novels which shaped his own literary style, as well as the

genres of the romance novel and short story. Eventually, Hawthorne

developed a style of romance fiction representative of his own

beliefs. Although Nathaniel Hawthorne^s writing style was often

as outdated when compared to modern literature, Hawthorne conveyed

modern themes of psychology and human nature through his crafty use

allegory and symbolism. To begin with, Hawthorne^s style was

commonplace for a writer of the nineteenth century. During the

period in which Hawthorne wrote, printing technology was not yet

advanced enough to easily reproduce photographs in books. Therefore,

Hawthorne frequently wrote lengthy visual descriptions since his

audience had no other means to see the setting of the novel. (Magill:1

840). One example of such descriptions was in The Scarlet Letter when

Hawthorne intricately describes the prison door and its surroundings.

Another aspect of Hawthorne^s writing which was exclusive to his time

period was the use of formal dialogue which remained fairly consistent

from character to character (Magill:2 140). Such overblown dialogue

was evident in The Scarlet Letter when the dialogue of Pearl, a young

child, exhibited no difference from the dialogue of the other

characters in the novel. Hawthorne adopted the use of overly formal

dialogue partly from a British writer, Sir Walter Scott, whose works

were popular in the United States and Great Britain (Magill:1 841).

Although Hawthorne^s dialogue was overly formal, it was an accurate

tool in describing human emotion (Gale). Absence of character

confrontation was another component of Hawthorne^s literary style.

Hawthorne frequently focused more on a character^s inner struggle or

central theme than on heated encounters between characters (Gale).

example of this style can be found in The Scarlet Letter since the

novel was almost solely based on the commandment ^Thou shall not commit

adultery^ (Magill:1 846). Despite dated dialogue and dated writing

style, Hawthorne implied various modern themes in his works. 
One of

Hawthorne^s recurring themes throughout his works was his own view

human nature. Hawthorne explored an interesting human psychology

through his exploration of the dark side of human consciousness

(Magill:1 841). In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne introduced ^a

profound comment on the breakdown of human relationships in the society

of the seventeenth century^ (Harris 304). Hawthorne^s theme that

nature is full of wickedness was also evident in ^Young Goodman Brown^

when the title character encountered great difficulty in resisting

temptation (Magill:3 1143). One outstanding aspect found in

Hawthorne^s writing was the concept of neutral territory. Hawthorne

described this concept as ^a neutral territory, somewhere between the

real world and fairy-land where the actual and imaginary may meet,

each imbue itself with the nature of the other^ (Litz 145). The

concept of neutral ground was most evident in the Custom House section

of The Scarlet Letter and served as the area in which romance took

place (Magill:1 1569). Hawthorne^s modern themes were also modeled

Hawthorne^s own religious beliefs. Although it was not the only

Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, his Puritan background contributed

greatly to his portrayal of a sinner in a strict Puritan community

(Litz 157). Hawthorne also raised questions concerning the morality

and necessity of Hester Prynne^s exile in The Scarlet Letter. One

reason for these inquires was Hawthorne^s disbelief in heaven, hell,

angels, or devils since modern science was undermining the Bible

(Magill:2 847). Unlike the frankness commonly found in modern

twentieth century literature, the nature of literature in the

nineteenth century was more conservative. Therefore, Hawthorne implied

more modern themes through the use of symbolism. One of Hawthorne^s

most obvious symbols in The Scarlet Letter was Pearl, the living

product of the adulterous affair between Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester

Prynne. Even though some of Hawthorne^s symbols were fantastical,

represented an anachronistic moral standpoint of Hawthorne himself.

(Gale) An example of this symbolism was Hester^s moral sin of

symbolized by an overly ornate scarlet ^A^ on Hester^s breast. 

fact, few authors who worked outside realism have been as concerned

with morals as Hawthorne was. (Magill:2 1572). Hawthorne also

allegory as a way of presenting themes. Hawthorne often achieved

allegory by placing characters in a situation outside of the ordinary

(Magill:2 1572). In The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne presented a

complex variation on his usual theme of human isolation and the human

community (Harris 304). Hester Prynne was a superb example of both

these themes since she was isolated from a strict Puritan community.

Possibly, Hawthorne^s recurring theme of isolation stemmed from his

experience of seclusion (Gale). Hawthorne explored the themes of

penance for sins and cowardliness when Arthur Dimmesdale struggled

himself to make his sin public. In conclusion, Hawthorne^s literary

style did indeed contain elements such as description and dialogue,

which seemed out of place when compared to modern twentieth century

literature. However, Hawthorne^s style was typical of the literary

style of the time. Nevertheless, Hawthorne addressed modern themes

expressed his own view on human nature and religion. In addition,

Hawthorne^s symbolism was an essential tool in addressing topics, which

were too radical to be publicly addressed in the nineteenth century.

Therefore, Hawthorne^s symbolism an astute way to express his own

beliefs. Hawthorne also achieved a unique form of allegory by

characters in unusual situations. Hawthorne used various symbols

imply themes of adultery, sins, and human morality. All in all,

Hawthorne deeply examined every facet of human nature and drew

conclusions from the experiences of the characters in his work.



Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter.

Fitzgerald, Sheila ed. Short Story Criticism. vol.4. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1989.

Gale ed. DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale Research Company , 1996.

Harris, Laurie Lanzen. Nineteenth Century Literature Criticism. vol. 54. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985.

Litz, Waltona ed. American Writers. New York: Charles Scriner^Òs Sons, 1998.

Magill, Frank N. ed. Magill^Òs Survey of American Literature. vol. 13. New York: Salem Press, 1991.

Magill, Frank N. ed. Critical Survey of Long Fiction. vol. 4 Pasadena, California: Salem Press, 1991.  

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