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Nathaniel Hawthorne: Innocence Lost

My Kinsman, Major Molineux and Young Goodman Brown present Nathaniel Hawthorne’s belief in the universality of sin. These works provide numerous perspectives into the nature of the human condition and the individual’s role within it. Hawthorne fictionalizes a world where communion with man is essential for spiritual satisfaction. The main characters of these stories face moral dilemmas through their pursuit of human communion. Whether the problems are moral, psychological, or both, Hawthorne insists that the individual must come to affirm a tie with the procession of life, must come to achieve some sense of brotherhood of man.

In order to commune with mankind, one has to give up a secure, ordered and innocent world. The individual becomes liable to a fearsome array of complex emotions. One feels alienated by a community that forces himself to corruption while his isolation creates an ambiguity. The newly initiated into the rites of man appears no more moral than those who he disdains. Hawthorne presents a world where communion with mankind leads to corruption while isolation from humans is an unpardonable sin. Nathaniel Hawthorne presents an interesting predicament in man’s search for communion with his fellow man.

Coming of age in Hawthorne’s time requires an affirmation of sin, communion with sinners and celebration of life through sin. Hawthorne creates this environment by grounding the consequences on earth. To feel the universal throb of brotherhood, one must recognize sin, participate in and celebrate it. Hawthorne affirms, recognizes and revels in the depravity of the human condition. The first fatal step of understanding human nature is a self-conscious probing that ends in confusion. The story of My Kinsmen, Major Molineux presents the youthful character of Robin on his way from the country to the town of Boston.

He wishes to succeed within the community, and figures that it will not be difficult because of his connection through Major Molineux, a prominent figure of the community. Hawthorne erodes innocence slowly through the harsh experience of urban realities. Robin’s initial contact with the residents of this community jostles his confidence. He does not yet understand the harshness of adults and happily continues on his way. But Hawthorne underscores the cost of his yearning. Robin has to give up a secure, ordered, and innocent world for the demands of maturity.

Upon entering he becomes liable to a fearsome array of complex emotions. (Stubbs, pp. 71) He realizes this array of emotions when he is alone at the steps of church. He longs to be at home while he cherishes the memories of the comforts he left behind. Hawthorne opens the doors of emotions for Robin only to close the ones of security and comfort. “and when Robin would have entered also, the latch tinkled into its place, and he was excluded from his home. ” (Hawthorne, pp. 1181) Robin’s own subconscious is aware of the past, he can no longer return to.

A new environment lies at the feet of the sensations of emotions, “But still his mind kept vibrating between fancy and reality” (Hawthorne, pp. 1181) Robin’s longing for his country home undermines his goals in town. The urge and understanding of communion with men rises with every bit of loneliness. Emotional confusion leads to a desire for communion with others to ward off feelings of loneliness. Hawthorne sends Robin and Young Goodman Brown on their respective quests to find union with man. The search for man’s universal heart beat leads the two men down well trodden paths.

Upon recognizing the need for communion with mankind, a new door opens to the innocent. The options are to enter and learn the secrets that connect mankind or to turn one’s back on the understanding of fellow brothers and to exist in naivety and denial of the fundamental human truth. However the examples of communion Hawthorne provides are not glamorous. “When there was a momentary calm in that tempestuous sea sound, the leader gave the sign, and the procession of resumed its march. On they went, like fiends that throng in mockery round some dead potentate, might no more, but majestic in his agony.

On they went, in counterfeited pomp, in senseless uproar, in frenzied merriment, trampling all on an old man’s heart. ” (Hawthorne, pp. 1185) The crowd does not seem welcoming to Robin at first. Molineux, as a figure of authority does not last long in a community reveling in their own imperfections. However the justification of the crowd is the communion. This man is no better than they. Participation is mandatory or alienation is inevitable. It is an interesting idea to associate sin with communion. Yet, it is life affirming. It supports Christian notions of original sin.

Humans are all mortal and thus should act accordingly by accepting all walks of life as sinners while on earth. It is more profound because it does not simply address notions of right or wrong but fundamental ideas of humanity. There is happiness in sin. However, affirmation of the brotherhood of mankind encompasses all the depravity that marks mortal nature. The Dark figure that plagues Goodman Brown with unholy proclamations pronounces the mystery of the human condition. “Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped, that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived!

Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome, again my children, to the communion of your race! ” (Hawthorne, pp. 1206) This scares Brown into calling upon his Faith but only to awaken alone in the woods. It is difficult to believe in the absolute depravity of mankind for their must be some compromise in human nature that enables communion. An alliance in evil creates a brotherhood of mankind. This is a sinister notion. Hawthorne defines the evil of the human soul as the universal mark of mankind, thus the only communion available to lonely hearts is evil.

Once communion with your fellow brother takes place, the celebration or the torment begins. When one recognizes sin and communes in sin the options that are left for the individual are simple but divisive. Robin laughs at the site of his fallen kin. It is this irony that affirms his communion with the very crowd he fears. He enjoys the site of a fallen man, as a part of an inevitable cycle men cannot escape. Man is mortal; whose nature is his very ruin. Hawthorne accounts another option to the celebration. Young Goodman brown communes and sees the weakness of his communities’ leaders.

The very process of communion takes on a carnival atmosphere where all are welcome as long as they do not disdain the fraternal sin. By clinging hypocritically to a simplistic morality, Brown loses his chance to enter humanity. “Goodman browns empty life serves as a kind of justification of for Robin’s entry into the procession, hard and discordant as the procession is. Hawthorne offers this sort of negative argument over and over again. One must affirm life, hard and sin laden though it may be sometimes, because the alternative, isolation, offers no hope at all. ” (Stubbs, pp. )

As the critic notes there is no hope in holding onto a morality that is faithless. Goodman can only see the sin that binds him to a depraved society. One taint of evil destroys his own ideas about the goodness of humanity. He reviles at the sight and display of normal appearances. “On the Sabbath-day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen, because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear, and drowned all the blessed strain. ” (Hawthorne, pp. 1207) Every word the congregation sings reminds him the dreadful night he spent in unholy company.

The reasons of his discontent are not mentioned but it is apparent Brown’s heart grew cold. “And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave, a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grand children, a goodly procession, besides neighbors, not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom. ” (Hawthorne, pp. 1207) There is nothing one can summarize in a tombstone verse about a life spent in this desperation. Goodman Brown accepts the universality of sin with a grunt.

Robin refuses isolation from the communion of sin with an ironic laugh. Hawthorne defines contentment with compromise, and discontent with naivety and desperation. Hawthorne creates an alternative to the communion of mankind in sin. But he sets this aside as the “Unpardonable Sin”. It is this sin that works against all human relations and inverts the individual. The onus of sin falls upon the individual not the community. In the story of Ethan Brand, Hawthorne sets this character on a quest for a deeper understanding of mankind but only results in a deeper understanding of his own sinful nature.

His sin is greater because he takes the blame for manipulating other people’s limitations. He isolates himself from the communion until the point where there is no more heart left for mankind; only the selfish pity and remorse of a hard heart. Hawthorne presents the communion of sin as the lesser of two evils that man faces in his journey for understanding. There is a chance of joy by sharing sin while there is only isolation and a burdened mind in the unpardonable sin. Emotional confusion takes Robin and Brown down a path to connect with their fellow man.

However, the only point of communion is through the universality of sin. Recognition and participation in the sin lead to two options available to the initiated, embrace the communion or disdain it. Robin’s laugh marks his embracing of the communal evil and is offered hope in this world by the ferryman at the end of the story. Brown’s lack of a hopeful verse shows a life wasted in his own naive moral system. Hawthorne offers hope to the character that embraces while condemns the ungrateful to a wasted life of frustration.

Recognition of the universality of sin creates notions of inevitability in the human condition. His stories affirm the original of every man. Community and society are based upon this sin. The joy of life lies in an ironic celebration of human shortcomings. But the actual sin is more powerful as a reminder of the mortality of humanity. The joy of life comes from knowing one’s condition and enjoying the struggle against inevitability. Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus accounts a similar human condition over a hundred years later.

Camus insists Sisyphus is happy or there is no joy or redemption for life on earth. The profundity of Hawthorne is apparent in his notions of the human condition. Nathaniel Hawthorne concludes his discovery of sin in the human condition at the point of universal appeal. The key for Hawthorne’s understanding of the human condition is the recognition of the universality of sin. So take this work for its imperfections, instead of tormenting these ideas with the harsh meter stick of faithless standards. Nathaniel Hawthorne believes that understanding man is understanding its moral condition of imperfection.

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