Nathaniel Hawthorne's Life in His Works

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  • Topic: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, Franklin Pierce
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Erin Smith
Mrs. Hemmings
American Literature
January 11, 2011

Hawthorne’s Background Thrust into His Work

With most writers, readers can identify what topics they tend to write about, how long their pieces often are, and what personal style these authors develop. While this is true of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, there are different elements that influence his writings. His life included many times of trials, many joys, and many ancestors that caused some turmoil within his mind. Two of his major works are influenced almost directly by his background (Werlock). Nathaniel Hawthorne threw his life into every single piece of his writing. His experiences, background, and the setting in which his life took place are prominent in everything he wrote.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in the Salem, Massachusetts area of New England, in which the Puritan history had a great surrounding influence. It was from these influences that he wrote his most famous book, The Scarlet Letter. The earliest American Hawthorne relatives were brothers John and William Hathorne, both judges. These judges oversaw numerous trials in Salem history including the Puritan persecution of the Quakers and the Salem witch trials of Salem residents believed to be witches. Notice the difference between the spelling of John and William and of Nathaniel? When Nathaniel had grown, he changed his surname from “Hathorne” to “Hawthorne”, restoring the traditional English spelling including a “w” (Werlock). Nathaniel disapproved greatly of his ancestor’s actions and wanted to separate himself from them, and in adding the “w”, he did so.

When pursuing greater education at Bowdoin College near Portland, Maine, Nathaniel felt as though he was letting his family down. Instead of choosing a career in medicine, law or ministry like most of his relatives, he rejected them and pursued a career in writing (Marks). He says this in his Custom House introduction to The Scarlet Letter: A writer of story-books! What kind of a business in life, - what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation, - may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!” Such are the compliments bandied between my great-grandsires and myself, across the gulf of time! And yet, let them scorn me as they will, strong traits of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine. (Hawthorne 26)

At first, Hawthorne wasn’t very successful, but in 1828 he published his first novel Fanshawe. It was a romance based upon his days at Bowdoin, and Hawthorne came to regret writing it. He regretted it so much; in fact, that he insisted upon burning every copy that he could find and even made sure that his family and friends would do the same to their copies. After many years of seclusion and reluctance to write, college friend Horatio Bridge secretly backed the publication of Hawthorne’s collection of stores titled Twice-Told Tales­ (Thalheimer). When these tales got a favored review in England, Nathaniel was astonished.

Along with Nathaniel’s college friend, a childhood friend always stood behind his writing career. This childhood friend was Sophia Peabody, a neighbor girl that he romanced and courted for years before their marriage in 1842. During their courtship, Nathaniel needed work and continued to move to the Brook Farm. Nathaniel’s book, The House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851, was yet another romance about his times and experiences at the Brook Farm and his courtship with Sophia (Werlock). Upon his return from the farm, he married Sophia and started their difficult life together.

The couple moved to Old Manse in Concord, Maine where they lived for four years. Hawthorne wrote the American Classic The Scarlet Letter there. This romance holds Hawthorne’s darkest depiction of the Puritan society (Bloom). He later argued that their strict beliefs and practices were essential to their survival...
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