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American Writers And Their Works: Hawthorne, Poe, And Whitman

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American Writers and Their Works: Hawthorne, Poe, and Whitman

Out of all the great authors and poets we have studied this semester I have chosen the three that I personally enjoyed reading the most; Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Walt Whitman. These three Writers stand out above the rest for each has contributed substantially to bringing forth a newly earned respect for American Writers of Literature. Up until this point in time most literature had come from European writers. Hawthorne, Poe and Whitman brought not only great works of art to our newly formed nation, but also to the world in general.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, the descendent of a long line of Puritan ancestors, including John Hathorne, a presiding magistrate in the Salem witch trials. After his father was lost at sea when he was only four, his mother became overly protective and pushed him toward more isolated pursuits. Hawthorne's childhood left him overly shy and bookish, and molded his life as a writer. Hawthorne is one of the most modern of writers who rounds off the puritan cycle in American writing

Hawthorne turned to writing after his graduation from Bowdoin College. His first novel, Fanshawe, was unsuccessful and Hawthorne himself disavowed it as amateurish. However, he wrote several successful short stories, including "My Kinsman, Major Molyneaux," "Roger Malvin's Burial" and "Young Goodman Brown." However, insufficient earnings as a writer forced Hawthorne to enter a career as a Boston Custom House measurer in 1839. After three years Hawthorne was dismissed from his job with the Salem Custom House. By 1842 his writing amassed Hawthorne a sufficient income for him to marry Sophia Peabody and move to The Manse in Concord, which was at that time the center of the Transcendental movement. Hawthorne returned to Salem in 1845, where he was appointed surveyor of the Boston Custom House by President James Polk, but was dismissed from this post when Zachary Taylor became president. Hawthorne then devoted himself to his most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. He zealously worked on the novel with a determination he had not known before. His intense suffering infused the novel with imaginative energy, leading him to describe it as the "hell-fired story." On February 3, 1850, Hawthorne read the final pages to his wife. He wrote, "It broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon as a triumphant success."

The Scarlet Letter was an immediate success and allowed Hawthorne to devote himself to his writing. He left Salem for a temporary residence in Lenox, a small town the Berkshires, where he completed the romance The House of the Seven Gables in 1851. While in Lenox, Hawthorne became acquainted with Herman Melville and became a major proponent of Melville's work, but their friendship became strained. Hawthorne's subsequent novels, The Blithedale Romance, based on his years of communal living at Brook Farm, and the romance The Marble Faun, were both considered disappointments. Hawthorne supported himself through another political post, the consulship in Liverpool, which he was given for writing a campaign biography for Franklin Pierce.

Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire after a long period of illness in which he suffered severe bouts of dementia.. Emerson described his life with the words "painful solitude." Hawthorne maintained a strong friendship with Franklin Pierce, but otherwise had few intimates and little engagement with any sort of social life. His works remain notable for their treatment of guilt and the complexities of moral choices.

In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, many of the characters suffer from the tolls of sin, but none as horribly as Hester's daughter Pearl. She alone suffers from sin that is not her own, but rather that of her mother. From the day she is conceived, Pearl is portrayed as an offspring of vice. She is brought introduced to the discerning, pitiless domain of the Puritan religion from inside a jail, a place where no light can touch the depths of her mother's sin. The austere Puritan ways punish Hester through banishment from the community and the church, simultaneously punishing Pearl in the process. This isolation leads to an unspoken detachment and animosity between her and the other Puritan children. Thus we see how Pearl is conceived through sin, and how she suffers when her mother and the community situate this deed upon her like the scarlet letter on her mother's bosom.

Hester Prynn impresses her feelings of guilt onto Pearl, whom she sees as a reminder of her sin, especially since as an infant Pearl is acutely aware of the scarlet letter A on her mother's chest. When still in her crib, Pearl reached up and grasped the letter, causing "Hester Prynne [to] clutch the fatal tokenЉso infinite was the torture inflicted by the intelligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand" (Hawthorne 66). Hester feels implicitly guilty whenever she sees Pearl, a feeling she reflects onto her innocent child. She is therefore constantly questioning Pearl's existence and purpose with questions: asking God, "what is this being which I have brought into the world!" or inquiring to Pearl, "Child, what art thou?" In this manner, Hester forces the child to become detached from society. Pearl becomes no more than a manifestation based entirely upon Hester's and Dimmesdale's original sin. She is described as "the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter endowed with life!"(70). Due to Hester's guilty view of her daughter, she is unable see the gracious innocence in her child.

Hester's views toward Pearl change from merely questioning Pearl's existence to perceiving Pearl as a demon sent to make her suffer. Hawthorne remarks that at times Hester is, "feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain"(67). Hester even tries to deny that this "imp" is her child, "Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl of mine!"(73; 67) It is small wonder that Pearl, who has been raised around sin, becomes little more than a reflection of her environment. Her own sin leads Hester to believe that Pearl is an instrument of the devil, when in reality she is merely a curious child who cherishes her free nature and wants to be loved by her mother. Because of her own profound sin, Hester is always peering into Pearl's burnt ochre eyes to try to discover some evil inside her daughter. "Day after day, she looked fearfully into the child's ever expanding natures dreading to detect some dark and wild peculiarity, that should correspond with



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