Hawthorne's Life He was born Nathaniel Hathorne--he added the "w" upon publishing--on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts. Though he was a native of Salem, he was "persona non grata there for half a century" (Redlich and Scherman 48). This ill acceptance of the famed author directly stemmed from the first chapter of The Scarlet Letter, which concerned the Salem customhouse. It was to be a humorous section in an otherwise somber novel. However, the Salemites did not find anything amusing about the satirical chapter, which described some former residents of the town in an uncomplimentary manner.
Hawthorne's feelings about his hometown were quite contradictory. He claimed not to like Salem, but it figured prominently in several of his works, including The Scarlet Letter, which, coincidentally, he wrote while living there. Nevertheless, he practically hated the city; to his wife he said, "'All enormous sinners should be sent on a pilgrimage to Salem, and compelled to spend a length of time there, proportioned to the enormity of the offenses'" (qtd. in Turner, Introduction 11).
Hawthorne was named after his father, Nathaniel Hathorne; his mother was Elizabeth Clark Manning.
The elder Hathorne, a sea captain, died of yellow fever when his son was only four years old. Still, Hawthorne wrote that his own, and, indirectly, his characters'--including Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter--"natural tendency toward seclusion" was from his father (Turner, Biography 10). His mother died when he was a grown man as he was writing The Scarlet Letter.
The Hathornes had two other...