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Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Moral and Loyal Hero

Posted in Author Profiles, and Literary Spotlight

Nath, as he preferred to be known as was born on July 4, 1804 at 27 Union Street in Salem, Massachusetts. He died on May 19, 1864 in Pemigewasset House, Plymouth, New Hampshire, found by his best friend and the ex-President of the US, Franklin Pierce.

It’s ironic that he was born on what is celebrated as Independence Day in the US, as he never truly felt independent or free. After his father’s death when he was four-years-old, as the only son his life revolved around supporting his family; his sister (who never married) and his widowed mother and eventually his own wife and children.

His most famous works include The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables, both gothic tales of life during his era. His writing allowed him to express his frustrations and his beliefs in how humanity was shaping and the hypocrisy of morality, The New World was changing, but was humanity being exploited in the process? Throughout his life he encountered conflicts of his own; financially dependent on his maternal relatives he worked in the family business and attended Bowdoin as suggested by his uncle and with lower tuition fees. Even as an adult his pride and loyalty resulted in conflicts. Herman Melville came to him to ask for help to secure some stable means of employment for him when he was in Liverpool while he was the US Consul. Unfortunately Hawthorne was unable to help as Pierce was not being re-elected and his own position was due to end. As much as he wanted to help, he couldn’t and he understood Melville’s plight as only a few years before, he had been in the same position.

Our Old Home, was dedicated to Pierce, who at the time was unpopular with his support of slavery. It resulted in people tearing out the dedication, stores refusing to stock it and people refusing to buy or read the book. He did this knowing the possible backlash and even though he was warned not to. Friendship has no bounds, but that isn’t to say Hawthorne agreed with slavery, he didn’t, but he respected the traditional ways, hence his conflict between striving for moral freedom for all including himself, yet supporting his friend. Here he was torn between morality and loyalty and many see his decision to stand by his friend as flawed. Friendship should be unconditional regardless of race, politics or religion and Hawthorne’s loyalty and indeed the friendship between the two was unbreakable.

Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the great American writers, unjustly seen as pessimistic and melancholy by some. Through his writing we witness how the New World was developing and the conflicts and loyalties that were faced and challenged. It is a humanistic perspective, from one who never felt truly free from his heritage, name and responsibilities. He lived in a variety of places, many determined by charity or circumstance rather than choice. His life seemed trapped as it revolved around making ends meet, finding a roof over his family’s head, and taking responsibility for his family. The White Mountains where he died was apt; he chose to be there and was free in death. Although buried in Concord, Massachusetts, Salem is where his soul was and where it remains.

Read more about Nathaniel Hawthorne by S.T. Alvyn.

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