Nathaniel Hawthorne was a nineteenth-century American short story writer, novelist, and darkly romantic. He works primarily with history, religion, and morality. The writings of Hawthorne’s are centered on New England. Most of his works feature moral metaphors with the inspiration of anti-puritanism. His fiction works are deliberated to be a part of the 19th century Romantic Movement, particularly dark Romanticism. The themes of his works are based on the inherent sin and evil of humanity. His works have deep psychological complexity and moral lessons. He published short stories, novels, and also a biography of his friend Franklin Pierce. Franklin Pierce was the 14th president of America.

A Short Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Early Life

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on 4th July 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. The life of Hawthorne was submerged in the legacy of Puritan. His ancestor, William Hathorne, immigrated to America for the first time from England in 1630 and settled in Salem, Massachusetts. William Hathorne became a judge in New England and was greatly known for his harsh statements. John Hawthorne, the son of William Hawthorne was also one of the three judges of Salem Witch trials during the 1690s. To distance himself from his family, Nathaniel Hawthorne added the letter “w” to his name.

Hawthorne was the only son of his parents.  His father, Nathaniel Hathorne, was a sea captain and died from yellow in 1808 in the sea. Nathaniel Hawthorne and his mother, Elizabeth Clark Hathorne, shifted to live with Elizabeth’s wealthy brothers due to their poor financial conditions. Hawthorne received a leg injury at a young age, due to which he was immobile for many months. During that time, Hawthorne established his interest in reading and envisioned becoming a writer.

From 1821 to 1825, Hawthorne attended Bowdoin College with the aid of his wealthy uncles. It was in this college that Hawthorne met his friends Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Franklin Pierce, the future President of America. He himself admitted for being a negligent student who did not have any interest in studies.

Short Stories and Collections

In school, Hawthorne terribly missed his mother and two sisters. Once he graduated, he went to stay with his family for 12 years. During those twelve years, he started writing on purpose and self-published his stories. Among these stories, “An Old Woman’s tale” and “the Hollow of the Three Hills” were also included. Till 1832, he had published his two greatest tales “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.” He published “Twice-Told Tales” in 1837. His writings brought him a little dishonor; however, he could earn much money from it.

Budding Success and Marriage

The self-imposed seclusion at home that Hawthorne inflicted upon himself ended. At the same time, he met a painter, illustrator and transcendentalist Sophia Peabody. Hawthorne spent little time at the Book Farm community during courtship. During that time, he met Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He did not show much interest in transcendentalism, however, living in the Book Farm community allowed him to save money to marry Sophia. The couple married on 9th July 1842, after the long wait and poor health of Sophia. The couple settled in Concord, Massachusetts. In 1884, they had their first child.

Hawthorne shifted to Salem due to increasing debt and developing family. In 1846, he got a job as a surveyor in the custom house in Salem with the help of his life-long Democrat and political connections. This job made him provide the necessary financial support. However, Hawthorne lost his job due to political favoritism when Zachary Taylor was elected as President. The dismal was a blessing in disguise as it gave him time to write a masterpiece novel, The Scarlet Letter. The story is about two lovers who rebelled against the moral law of Puritans. The novel was published in bulk and became one of the first mass-production in the United States. This novel made Hawthorne widely famous.

Other Books

In Salem, Hawthorne was not comfortable. He was determined to take out his family from the trappings of Puritan’s town. Hawthorne, with his family, shifted to Red House in Lenox, Massachusetts. In Lenox, he befriended Herman Melville and Moby Dick. It was a productive period of his life, which he enjoyed greatly. He published novels such as Blithedale Romance, The House of the Seven Gables, and Tanglewood Tales.

Years Abroad

In the election of 1852, Hawthorne published a campaign biography for Pierce, his college friend. Pierce was elected as President and appointed Hawthorne as an American Consul to Britain on personal favor. From 1853 to 1857, Hawthorne lived in England. During this period, he wrote the novel Our Old Home.

Hawthorne went to Italy on a family tour after serving as a consul and then went back to England. He finished his last novel, The Marble Faun, in 1860. Hawthorne, with his family, permanently shifted back to the United States in the same year. They started living at The Wayside in Concord, Massachusetts.

Last Years

In his late years, it was getting difficult for Hawthorne to keep pace with his earlier productivity. His late year’s works hardly found any success. He could not write coherently and left his drafts incomplete.  His health started deteriorating, and age factors started appearing. He denied taking any mental health, and on 19th May 1864, he died in his sleep.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Literary Style

The works of Nathaniel Hawthorne belong to 19th century Romanticism and, more precisely, to dark Romanticism. His tales are cautionary, suggesting that sin, evil, and guilt are the inherent characteristics of humanity. His works have been inspired by Puritan New England and historical romance. They are loaded with deep psychological themes and symbolism, and little traces of surrealism is also found. He depicts the past in the form of historical fiction and illustrates his recurrent theme of the ancestral and inherent sin of humanity. He also illustrates negative views of transcendentalism in his later writings. 

Predominantly, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote short stories in his early career. When he published a Collection Twice-Told Tale, he did not expect a public response and said that he did not think much about it. From 1850 to 1860, he wrote his four major romances. They are The House of the Seven Gables, The Scarlet Letter, The Marble Faun, and The Blithedale Romance. In 1828, he published, anonymously, another romance of novel-length Fanshawe. Hawthorne gave his own definition of romance and said that romance is different from the novel by not focusing on ordinary life experiences. Hawthorns illustrates his romance writing in the preface to The House of the Seven Gables by saying that he uses “atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the picture.”

The novels, short stories, and romance novels that Hawthorne wrote this period shaped his literary style. Hawthorne developed a romance fiction style that represents his own beliefs. Due to romance fiction, the literary style of Hawthorne, when compared to modern literature, is perceived as outdated. However, Hawthorne also carries the psychological themes and nature of humanity with his creative employment of symbolism and allegory.

The literary style of Hawthorne is ordinary as compared to contemporary writers. In the 19th century, the printing press was not advanced enough to reproduce the exact images in the literary works. Due to which, Hawthorne had to write lengthy descriptions to create visuals as the readers had no other medium to see them or experience the setting of the novels. The best example of visual description is seen in the roman The Scarlet Letter when Hawthorne gives minute details of the door of the prison and the surrounding places. 

Another feature of Hawthorne’s style is the use of formal and exaggerated dialogues. This feature is limited to his time period and remained impartially constant from character to character. In The Scarlet Letter, the exaggerated dialogues are very prominent. For example, in the novel, the dialogue of a child, Pearl, is similar to the dialogue of other characters of the novel. This style of using overly formal and exaggerated Hawthorne was inspired by the British writer Sir Walter Scott. Hawthorn’s dialogues were perfect in describing the emotions of humans, even though they were exaggerated. 

Another striking feature of Hawthorne’s fictional writing style is that it is devoid of any conflicts between the characters. Hawthorne focused more on the internal struggle of character than to center his focus on the outward action and clashes. The best example of this characteristic can also be found in the novel The Scarlet letter. The novel is based on the order the “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Even though the dialogues and style of Hawthorne are outdated, his themes are modern and still used in modern works.

The most important recurring theme in almost all of Hawthorne’s work is his perception of human nature. Hawthorne talks about interesting aspects of the human mind by exploring the dark sides of human consciousness. In the romance, The Scarlet Letter made a thoughtful comment on the breakup of human relationships in seventeen-century society. Hawthorne also talks about the wickedness of human nature when the title character in the short story “Young Goodman Brown” struggles greatly to resist his temptations.  

The notion of neutral territory is an outstanding characteristic of the writing style of Hawthorne. He defines the notion of neutral territory as a place somewhere between the fairy world and the real world. The episode of the custom-house in The Scarlet Letter is prominent and serves as the setting for romance.

The modern themes in the writing of Hawthorne were inspired by his religious beliefs. Though the purpose of writing was not to depict his religious beliefs, the Puritan background is evident in The Scarlet Letter. The way he portrayed a sinner resembles the sinner in the harsh Puritan community. In his works, Hawthorne also put forward his suspicions on the notion of morality and the need for the exile of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne was a disbeliever in hell, heaven, angels, or devils as there was the clash between modern science and the Bible, which made him highly suspicious.

The nature of the 19th-century literature was more conservative and did not match the frank nature of twentieth-century literature. Thus, by employing symbolism, Hawthorne implicitly employed modern themes. The eminent modern theme is found in the novel The Scarlet Letter, in the form of character Pearl. Pearl is the living proof of the illicit and adulterous relationship between Hester Prynne and Dimmesdale.

Hawthorne also uses fantastical symbols representing the outdated moral stance of his own. The example of a fantastical symbol is the moral sin of adultery committed by Hester and is symbolized by excessively decorated scarlet “A” on his breast. Other authors whose works are not based on realism are also concerned with morality the way Hawthorne was.

To present his themes, Hawthorne also employed the literary device of allegory. He makes his works allegorical by placing the fictional characters in a setting and situation that is not commonplace. Hawthorne presented complicated variations on his ordinary themes of human community and human isolation in The Scarlet Letters. The outstanding example of both of these themes is Hester Prynne, as she was separated from the strict Puritan community. Perhaps, the theme of isolation in Hawthorne’s work could also be a result of his own experience of seclusion from his own family. Hawthorne also explores the themes of cowardliness and sin through his character Arthur Dimmesdale when he struggled to make his sin public.

Feminism in Hawthorne’s Works

The feminist critics and historic critics approach the works of Hawthorne by his description of the women in his novels, romances, and short stories. The character of Hester Prynne in the romance-novel, The Scarlet Letter, is a special interest to feminist critics. They realize that as she could not be an intended prophet of the future, nor could she be an apostle and angel of the coming world, but indeed a woman. A feminist critic Camille Paglia observed the character of Hester as mystical and describes her as a wondering goddess who still bears the sign of her Asiatic origin and “moving serenely in the magic circle of her sexual nature.”

Another feminist, Lauren Berlant, describes Hester as a woman who personifies love as the characteristic quality of body that embodies the unadulterated light of nature. The false political theory of Berlant “Female Symbolic” is the result of her feminist study of The Scarlet Letter in which she literalizes the uselessness of Puritan metaphors.

For historicists, Hester is a proto-feminist incarnation of responsibility and self-reliance that causes the women to vote and their liberation. Nina Auerbach named the fall of Hester and her following redemption as “the novel’s one unequivocally religious activity.’ She studies Victorian literature and compares the galvanic outcast with the prominent features of Hester.

Meredith A. Powers regards Hester as a deity figure describes the characterization of Hester as “the earliest in American fiction that the archetypal Goddess appears quite graphically… not the wife of traditional marriage, permanently subject to a male overlord.” Powers observes the flexibility and syncretism of Hester, as well as her inherent aptitude to change and neglect the secondary status defeat in the civilization, which is goal-oriented.

Other than Hester Prynne, other female characters of Hawthorne’s novels are also more developed than male characters. These characters include Ellen Langton from the novel Fanshawe, Zenobia and Priscilla from the novel The Blithedale Romance, Miriam and Hilda of The Marble Faun, and Hepzibah and Phoebe of The House of the Seven Gables. The same is the case in his short stories. In his short stories, the female protagonist serves as an allegorical figure. For example, Rappaccini is an attractive but life-changing daughter; the perfect Georgiana in the short story “The Birthmark; ester which is abandoned and sinned against in the story “Ethan Brand”; and the faithful wife Faith Brown is the fulcrum of the very belief of Young Goodman Brown on God. When Brown sees his wife at the Sabbath of Witches, he shouts, “My Faith is gone!” Indeed, the most comprehensive statement of Hawthorne’s stimulus comes out of the mouth of Mark Van Doren as “Somewhere, if not in the New England of his time, Hawthorne unearthed the image of a goddess supreme in beauty and power.”


To conclude, the literary style of Hawthorne perhaps contains features such as dialogue and description, which appears to be outdated and out of place when compared to the literature of the twentieth century. But the style of Hawthorne belongs to his own time. Moreover, Hawthorne also employs modern themes in his work and illustrates his own perception of religion and human nature. Furthermore, the important device Hawthorne used to address his subject matter was symbolism, which “too essential” to be used in the literature of the 19th century. Therefore, Hawthorne uses symbolism smartly to reflect his own beliefs. By placing the fantastical situations and setting, Hawthorne employed a unique form of allegory. He talks about the themes of sin, adultery, and human mortality by employing various themes. All things considered, Nathaniel hawthorns profoundly examined each surface of human nature, and from the experiences of his characters, he draws the conclusion of his work.

Works Of Nathaniel Hawthorne