An Analysis of Hawthorne's Short Stories
In many of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short stories, he creates characters
with either a malicious or evil feature to relay to the reader a more
allegorical meaning. Many would say he targets woman without justification.
Therefore a reader may interpret him to be a misogynist. In the story "
Rapaccinni's Daughter" he uses Beatrice as a carrier of a deadly poison. In "
Young Goodman Brown" he targets Faith as the character who is lost to the Devil.
In the stories "Rappaccini's Daughter," and "The Birthmark," Hawthorne also uses
men as transmitters of evil illicitly. The men involved in the stories have
their own flaws which contribute to the flaws of the women in their lives.
Ultimately, Hawthorne in the cases above can be seen as a misogynist who directs
his maliciousness on only women, yet he also uses male characters as vile
transmitters of evil, therefore he is not a misogynist and targets both sexes
In Young Goodman Brown, Faith, the wife of Young Goodman Brown is a
character who loses her faith and submits to the Devil. Hawthorne, in this case
directly uses faith as the carrier of a flaw. That is, she does not contain
enough self-control, or faith to refuse the calling of the Devil. Even with the
emotional plea from her husband, "Look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one,"
(1590) Faith cannot resist the Devil's temptation and has "uncertain sorrow,"
(1587) after submitting to him. The character of Faith which Hawthorne
portrays is one of uncertainty and one which has a lack of self control. Faith
is a good example of how Hawthorne uses a woman to symbolize a deeper
significance, in this case, it is to evoke the hypocrisy of the Puritan people,
that is, Puritans are really not as pure as we all think, they also contain evil
characteristics, in this case, exploited at night. We cannot justify Hawthorne's
usage of Faith as misogyny, in that woman were not considered equal in status
to men in the early 16th and later centuries. Also, with the history of
witchcraft during the puritan era, it can be seen appropriate that Hawthorne
uses a woman in this case.
In "Rapaccinni's Daughter", Hawthorne develops the character of Beatrice
as the possessor of poisonous elements, namely, her breath. Beatrice instills
her deadly breath to Giovanni when, "she had at least instilled a fierce and
subtle poison into his system." (1649). Giovanni acquires her poison and is
subjected to stay within the garden. This evil act which Beatrice does, is not
done intentionally, it is the act of her father which results in Beatrices evil
possession. Hawthorne creates Beatrice as the possessor of evil, but he doesn't
present her as an evil character, in fact it is her father Dr. Rappaccinni who
is deemed the evil character. For it is he who creates the garden. Hawthorne
describes Beatrice as being "beautiful as the day, and with a bloom so deep and
vivid that one shade more would have been too much." (1645) Therefore,
Hawthorne cannot be considered a misogynist when he creates a male character who
imposes an evil possession on a woman. In this case it is really Dr. Rappaccini
who has the evil flaw, that is he is mentally ill to try and distort nature by
creating the garden. Beatrice is a result of Dr. Rappaccini's evil actions.
In "the Birthmark" Hawthorne introduces the character Georgianna who's
soul flaw is a birthmark on her face. Every other characteristic of Georgianna
is perfect. Her husband Aylmer loves science and questions her one flaw, her
birthmark. He suggests that he should try and remove it. When the moment comes
and Aylmer finally does remove her Birthmark, everything evolves. When Aylmer
announces, "My peerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect!" (1627)
Immediately following the removing of the Birthmark, Georgianna dies. Once
again Hawthorne uses a woman as the possessor of an evil characteristic, but it
is Aylmer's insistence on trying to distort nature which leads to the death of
his wife. Aylmer is the character who possesses the evil flaw, he insists that
the Birthmark must be removed. And therefore it is obvious that Hawthorne
doesn't direct his evil characteristics only on women.
In all of the above cases, Hawthorne uses both women and men to
introduce his meaning to his audience. In many cases he possesses women with
explicit evil flaws. But Hawthorne also possesses men with deep inner flaws,
which in many cases creates the flaws of the women. Based on the supporting
evidence above, it is clear that Hawthorne is definitely not a misogynist and
can even be described as focusing on men and their inner flaws. In general, it
is evident that Hawthorne uses both sexes to introduce his beliefs.