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Ethan Brand

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Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Ethan Brand

Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, Ethan Brand, opens with a lime burner, by the name of Bartram, and his son sitting and watching his kiln at nightfall. Bartram hears a solemn roar of laughter. This laugh scares his son, and is mistaken by Bartram as a laugh of a drunken man. Bartram throws open the kiln door flooding the place with light and providing a better view of this laughing stranger, thus introducing Ethan Brand.

Ethan Brand once watched this same kiln. Brand led a "solitary and meditative" (Hawthorne p.1168) life, and would pass the time by staring into the flames of the kiln, deep in thought. Through these thoughts, Brand developed an idea. This was the idea of an unpardonable sin. What sin could possibly be so bad that not even god himself could forgive the sinner? These thoughts eventually lead to an obsessive search for the unpardonable sin. This search eventually leads him to suicide.

Brand returns to town believing that he has succeeded in his search. During this search, he has tried to look into many different people's hearts. Brand claims that the hearts were "seven times hotter with sinful passion then yonder furnace is with fire."(Hawthorne p.1171) After delving into many people's heart, it was his realization that the sin grew in his own breast. Even though Brand claims he has found the unpardonable sin, it is my belief that he fails in his search for the unpardonable sin. The author leaves several references in the story for his failure.

One point the author makes that is extremely compelling to me, is the story of a dog chasing his own tail. I believe the chasing of the tail coincides with Brand's search for the unpardonable sin. Brand began his search without any suggestions from anyone else. The dog also began his chase of his tail the same way. The longer the dog chased his tail, the fiercer his chase became. This is the same with Brand's search, because the longer he searched, the more obsessed he became. The author states that the dog's chase is a chase of an object that is unobtainable. Since the chase of the tail is a chase of an object that cannot be obtained, I believe that Brand's search of an unpardonable sin is the same.

Staying with the story of the dog, the author makes use of another allegorical point that is relative to Brand's search. The dog only stops his chase after he becomes exhausted and is as far from his goal as ever. All the onlookers of the dog's antics laugh and applaud while asking for an encore. The dog tried, but had spent so much energy, that he was no longer successful at entertaining the crowd. With the spectators no longer amused, they ignore the dog.

I feel that when Brand was completely exhausted from his search, he returned to his home to be the center of attention. For a short time, he succeeds. After the initial excitement of Brand's return wears off, the crowd is no longer amused by Brand and does not believe that he has succeeded in his search. Brand received a much more negative reception than he had hoped for.

During Brand's exhaustive search, something happened to his heart. He had viewed many men's hearts, originally thinking of them as "a temple originally divine, and, however desecrated, still to be held sacred by a brother."(Hawthorne p.1176).



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