Home » Analysis of Three of Hawthorne’s Works: Solitude and Isolation

Analysis of Three of Hawthorne’s Works: Solitude and Isolation

Solitude and isolation are immense, powerful, and overcoming feelings. They possess the ability to destroy a person’s life by overwhelming it with gloom and darkness. Isolate is defined: to place or keep by itself, separate from others (Webster 381). Solitude is “the state of being alone” (Webster 655). Nathaniel Hawthorne uses these themes of solitude and isolation for the characters in several of his works. “Hawthorne is interested only in those beings, of exceptional temperament or destiny, who are alone in the world… ” (Discovering Authors).

Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Goodman Brown, and Beatrice Rappaccini are all persons “whom some crime or misunderstood virtue, or misfortune, has set them by themselves or in a worse companionship of solitude (Discovering Authors). Hawthorne devoted many stories to isolated characters – one’s who stand alone with no one to look to for love or support. “For Hawthorne, this condition of moral and social isolation is the worst evil that can befall aman” (Adams 73). Each of the characters above are separated from the world because of some sin or evil.

Their separation is a painful, devastating feelings. The themes of solitude and isolation are depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, “Young Goodman Brown, “and “Rappaccini’s Daughter. ” At the age of four, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s father died, devastating his mother and destroying his family forever. He later recalls how his mother and sisters would “take their meals in their rooms, and my mother has eaten alone ever since my father’s death” (Martin 10). Naturally, Hawthorne’s mother’s isolated life contributed to his personal solitude and to his stories of solitude. Although he never reached the point she did, his life too became one of separation and loneliness.

When he was nine, a severe foot injury reduced is physical activity for almost two years and excluded him from many activities with other children. Soon after the recovery, his family moved to an isolated area in Raymond, Maine. It is here that he picked up his first “accursed habits of solitude” (Martin 3). On his relationship with his mother, Hawthorne said: I loved my mother, but there has been , ever since my boyhood, a sort of coldness of intercourse between us, such is apt to come between persons of strong feelings, if they are not managed rightly (Martin 11).

Hawthorne never had a strong, healthy family life. However, his lonely hildhood was only the beginning to the many solitude years he would experience. 1825-1837 have traditionally been termed the years of solitude in Hawthorne’s life. During this time, he is described as having “a sombre, half- disappointed spirit” (Newman 127). However, “These years were solitary to an unusual degree, but not in the sense of a hermit’s deliberate withdrawal from the world” (Stewart 27).

Hawthorne used this time to write several of his stories. His chief object was to master the writer’s difficult art – something which cannot be done in the hubbub of social activity” (Stewart 27). “His ousehold being made up of strong- attached yet reticent people each of whom maintained a well- developed sense of solitude, thus gave Nathaniel the privacy that he required” (Martin 11). Therefore, he kept to himself spending “many lonely and despondent hours in the chamber where fame was won” (Stewart 37). By 1838, Hawthorne had created forty-four tales and one novel. In 1837, he became engaged to Sophia Peabody.

At this point, his life of loneliness left him; he felt invigorated and alive for the first time. In one of his many letters to her, he wrote “And sometimes (for I had no wife then to keep my heart warm) it eemed as if I were already in the grave, with only life enough to be chilled and benumbed (Martin 15). Hawthorne realized how isolated his life had become from the world. Sophia helped to pull him out of this solitary period. The adulteress act of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, in The Scarlet Letter, forces the two to live in isolation for the rest of their lives.

Hester and Dimmesdale sin and are isolated by that sin” (Ringe 90). Hester Prynne, “alone and independent by decree… ” (Martin 118), spends all her time in her tiny home with only her baby, Pearl. After the first scaffold scene, oth Hester and Dimmesdale “begin to work out their penance in isolation” (Ringe 90). Hester feels so guilty and sinful that she wants to be away from the world. “[She] becomes absorbed with a morbid meddling of conscience, and continues to focus her attention on self when she feels that none is so guilty as she” (Ringe 90).

The scarlet letter “A” that she must wear, makes her “… an outcast from social joy forever (Stoddard 8). However, this “[shame, despair, and solitude] made her strong and taught her much amiss” (Martin 21). Being on her own teaches Hester a great deal. unfortunately, “the price of her new ntelligence… is isolation” (Ringe 91). Through this isolation from the community, Hester acquires an intellect which enables her to look at human institutions with a fresh point of view (Ringe 91).

She becomes more caring and helps by “… performing small services for [the community]… (Lewis 21). Hester’s only friend is Dimmesdale, whom she can no longer be with. She is completely alone with no friends or companions. She has been living on the “outskirts of town,” attempting to cling to the community by performing small services for it (Lewis 21), though: In all her intercourse with society, there was nothing that ade her feel as if she belonged to it. Every gesture, every word, and even the silence of those with whom she came in contact, implied… that she was banished, and as much alone as if she inhabited another sphere… (Arvin 13).

The community’s “social ostracism made her into a type of moral solitude” (Levin 22). Hester Prynne becomes a lonely woman, isolated from everyone. Her overwhelming sense of guilt forces her to live in a world full of darkness and gloom. “It is Dimmesdale whom secretly tortures” (Doren 15). Arthur Dimmesdale through the seven years, stood a witness of Hester’s misery and olitude. He watches Hester’s public isolation while suffering from his own privately. Dimmesdale silently torturing inside, engages in “heterodox modes of self- punishment” (Abele 47). “[He] suffers in complete isolation, for the sin is all within him… (Ringe 90).

He is miserable and lives in complete solitude, rarely leaving his home. He “becomes suspicious of all mankind and seeks reasons for his keeping silent” (Ringe 90). He deliberately isolates himself from the town for fear that someone will find out about his sinful life. He is “a prisoner in the dungeon of his own heart” (Brodhead 162). Revealing himself would release his fear of recognition, thus would rid him of his isolation. Unfortunately, he chooses solitude rather than having to consistently facing the people to make him feel less guilty.

Dimmesdale becomes a sad, tortured, miserable man until he confesses, then dies. “Young Goodman Brown” is a story of a decent man who is transformed into a “stern, a darkly meditative, a distrustful man… ” (Bunge 11). He sees visions of evil in the forest that devastate him permanently. “Brown turns away [from the meeting] at the last moment because he does not want to confess his vil. Ironically, his exemplary behavior produces a life of isolation and gloom” (Bunge 11). He quickly concludes that there is “no good on earth” (Martin 87). He spends the rest of his life isolated from the town and even his wife.

He “… shrinks away from the minister, wonders what god Deacon is praying to, snatches a child from Goody Cloyse, and passes his wife, Faith,… without saying a word” (Adams 72). Brown can no longer distinguish good from evil. He trusts no one, and hates everyone. “… he is forever blind to the world as it normally presents itself” (Martin 81). Things that were once ordinary and plain are now suspicious. The vision “turns his world inside out and compels him to live and die in a gloom born of his inverted sense of moral reality” (Martin 87).

The most immediately apparent reason for Brown’s final state of mind is that he has been required to face and acknowledge the evil in himself and others, including his young wife, so as to be able to recognize the good, and has failed the test” (Adams 72). Admitting that even his innocent wife, Faith, is sinful is too much for Brown to accept. After the meeting, he is so dumbfounded by the act that all are evil that is “condemns him to a lifetime of faithfulness” (Levy 118). The book is “about Brown’s doubt, his discovery of the possibility of universal evil” (Martin 81).

He becomes a distrustful, miserable man until his death. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Beatrice Rappaccini has been impregnated with poison since her birth. This poison, deadly to all others, is like her sister. unfortunately, because it is deadly, she too becomes harmful. This means she must remain within the walls of her garden with the poisonous plant. “A very large concern of the tale is that Beatrice is imprisoned” (Martin 88). This imprisonment results in her being cut from “most… human relationships” (Benzo 142).

Giovanni, the one person who meets and falls in love with Beatrice, describes in her face a look of “desolate separation” (Benzo 145). Both being in the garden and filled with poison causes her to live a life of complete solitude and isolation. “This isolation… causes Beatrice her greatest sorrow” (Benzo 142). “Beatrice is toxic: … flowers wither in her hand and lizards and insects die when exposed to her breath” (Bunge 68). Contact with other humans will cause the other person to become poisoned also – as Giovanni did.

Rappaccini laughed at Giovanni, “he now stands apart from common man as thou dost, Beatrice… from ordinary women (Martin 91). Beatrice is a lonely and deadly woman who wants so desperately to be “normal. ” Beatrice’s greatest wish is to have love. She would “fain be loved not feared” (Martin 97). She is presented as a “trapped and poisonous [woman] who… needs a special kind of redemption: a prisoner in the garden, her body nourished by poison, she… belongs to God in spirit; her spirit indeed craves love as its daily food” (Martin 88). Beatrice wants to be loved, and she wants o have friends. She wants to share joyous feelings with someone.

Growing up with only her scientist father, she is completely alone. Unlike Hawthorne’s other characters, Beatrice hates her isolation. She wants to be with other people, with love, with happiness. Unfortunately, she never receives any of her wishes because she is a sad, but poisonous and deadly creature. The themes of solitude and isolation are depicted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, “Young Goodman Brown,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter. ” The definition of solitude is “the state of being alone” (Webster 655). To isolate is to “keep by itself, separate from others” (Webster 381).

In his early life, Hawthorne’s mother lived a completely separate, isolated life. At times, Hawthorne would “scarcely see her in three months” (Martin 10). He quickly picked up her lonely habits. As a child, he was often separated from others. During the solitary years, he devoted all of his time to writing using only the most isolated and solitude characters. “[Hawthorne’s] men and women are no egotists to whom isolation is a delight; they suffer from it, they try in vain to come out of the shadow and sit down with the rest of the world in the unshine” (Discovering Authors).

Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Goodman Brown, and Beatrice Rappaccini “belong to his exhibit of lonely men, of outcasts, of ‘isolatoes’ is Melville’s word” (Abele 12). Hawthorne’s abundant use of solitude characters and stories comes from all his experiences of isolation. Having an isolated mother and being a writer, it is not so unusual for him to have lived such a separate life. “The life of a serious writer is likely to be in a large part lonely” (Stewart 37). The lonely Nathaniel Hawthorne creates his greatest works using two familiar themes – solitude and isolation.

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