Desolation of the Man the Key to Hawthorne

8 Nov

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) is one of the great stylists, thinkers and ironists of the apocalyptic – elegiac phases of the West. A quintessential Romantic, his idylls are cankered early and deeply. How fleeting is our view of Young Goodman Brown as he kisses his wife, “Faith” goodbye for his ‘brief’ night walk through the forest; how fleeting was the joy of Dimmesdale and Hester (“hidden”) that led to many years of deceit, self-laceration and agonizing death, — for the man.
That is the key point: in accordance with the re-emergence of goddess rapture, the apocalyptic – elegiac phases of the West take special interest in and disgorge endless narratives and images of men and youths desolated by bad mentoring, bad conscious and various forms of ‘the impossible dream’ of which Camelot (as in Tennyson) and Christianity itself are primary examples. The transfigurative ideal has in it the transformation of male potency and dominion into the female as dominant image (Ouranos’ genitals into Aphrodite is the paradigm). Look at the glossy ‘fashion’ and ‘women’s’ magazines that litter shelves in every waiting room and fitness center.

In Hawthorne, the young man, and sometimes and old one, like Rappaccini whose blessing is confounded by an envious ‘christian’ colleague (Baglioni), inevitably are desolated by an impossible dilemma of perception, between futile self-sacrifice and ‘selfish’ pragmatism (“Roger Malvin’s Burial”) or idealism and a life of simple social and inter-personal joys.

Just review his greatest stories (and his dozen greatest are among our greatest works of fiction) and you will encounter the pathos of the alienation and traumatic desolation of the protagonists: Reuben Bourne; Giovanni in Rappaccini’s Daughter”; Young Goodman Brown; Owen Warland (“Artist of the Beautiful”); Aylmer in “The Birthmark,” Dimmesdale and the Minister in “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Whether these characters are more sinned against than sinning, the weight of each fiction, the thematic leitmotif is the alienating trauma of the young man.

This is the main motif of our historical era for it is the end game of the West’s cult of idealization, of transfiguring image – work and the resultant displacement of the real by the image.


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