SOCIAL AND PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS IN THE MAJOR ROMANCES OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE (MASSACHUSETTS)
Scholars have long been perplexed by the apparently discrepant political aspects in Nathaniel Hawthorne's life and fiction. Important insights into Hawthorne's views concerning the potential for social and personal transformation can be gained by focusing on the tension in the major romances between forces aligned with the status quo and those attempting to bring about systemic change. Each of the major romances presents a set of seemingly unmalleable social structures which promote stability and claim general authority and power over the inhabitants of the fictional world. On the other hand, each romance also features the "combative energy" of protagonists who challenge or threaten the prevailing institutions by their actions or their views: Hester Prynne and Pearl in The Scarlet Letter, Holgrave in The House of the Seven Gables, Zenobia and the Blithedalers in The Blithedale Romance, and Miriam and Donatello in The Marble Faun. Hawthorne attempts to demonstrate the energy of the opposition between the competing claims of the dominant society and the forces representing an adversarial stance towards it, and this opposition is manifested in the dynamic tension between images implying fixity and those implying fluidity. Likewise, since shifts in perspective underscore the complex relationships between the individual and the external world, they emphasize the expansiveness of life and call into question rigid and repressive mental constructs and social structures. In presenting the conflict in these terms, Hawthorne demonstrates the undesirability of acquiescing uncritically in the "settled system of things," since its narrowness and rigidity militate against sound relationships; but he also indicates the dangers of unchecked freedom and unrestrained individuality. In offering an alternative to both extremes, Hawthorne indicates that meaningful social and personal change can come about only through positive relationships--with other individuals, with society, with the past, and with God.
JEROME EDWARD BURNS,
"SOCIAL AND PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS IN THE MAJOR ROMANCES OF NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE (MASSACHUSETTS)"
(January 1, 1985).
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