Analysis of Three of Hawthorne's Works: Solitude and Isolation
Julia Pesaresi Burns 3rd Period Pre-Ap English 20 February 96
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
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
his 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
childhood 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
household 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
seemed 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,
both 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
intelligence...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
made 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
solitude. 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
evil. 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
fact 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
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
to 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
sunshine" (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.