Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American author whose most well-known novels shined a light on the motives of his Puritan ancestors, especially during the Salem Witch Trials. His short stories also explored early Gothic style, especially the dark and supernatural elements.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. He was severely influenced by his family’s role in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and especially by the actions of his great-great-grandfather Judge John Hathorne during the Salem Witch Trials.
Hawthorne began his writing career dabbling in short stories, experimenting with the Gothic style, especially in the dark and supernatural elements found in “The Minister’s Black Veil” and “Young Goodman Brown.” He tinged these works with the common theme of crisis of faith, and the question of whether or not the Puritans did more harm than good in their pursuit of religious freedom.
These same themes were carried over in his two most well-known novels The House of Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter. Both novels also examine the theme of guilt which Hawthorne seemed to have over the actions of his Puritan ancestors in the founding of the New World. In The House of Seven Gables, Matthew Maule’s house was wrongfully seized from him as he was executed for witchcraft. He places a curse on the Pyncheon family. Hepzibah Pyncheon, in the 19th century, is discovering that the old curse is still visiting the family, and they can’t rid themselves of it until Clifford is exonerated from his murder conviction and the family leaves the house behind. In The Scarlet Letter examines the morals of a woman who has a child out of wedlock and refuses to reveal the father’s name, who is a Puritan minister. The two are plagued by their sins as Hester Prynne is sentenced to wear a scarlet letter “A” for “adulterer” for the rest of her days in Salem.
The reclusive Hawthorne died in his sleep after an extensive illness in 1864.
“Love, whether newly born, or aroused from a deathlike slumber, must always create sunshine, filling the heart so full of radiance, that it overflows upon the outward world.”
“The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man.”
“Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.”