"But perhaps the bitterest pang of all was when his eyes met those of Robin; for he evidently knew him on the instant, as the youth stood witnessing the foul disgrace of a head that had grown grey in honor. They stared at each other in silence, and Robin's knees shook, and his hair bristled, with a mixture of pity and terror." - My Kinsman, Major Molineux
Robin ventures into the New England colony looking for his relative, Major Molineux, whom he believes is an honorable and respected figure in the town. He is oblivious to the fact that the people plan to tar and feather the Major later that evening. When he finally sees his relative, he is in a miserable state. The humiliation the Major suffers affects Robin in two ways. He pities the Major, but is also terrified of the crowd. As the procession continues, Robin laughs along with the rest of the crowd, persecuting his poor relative and turning his back on their relationship. It is unclear whether his laughter stems from pure shock or fear for his personal safety, or if he joins in on the harsh judgment of his uncle.
"The sapling to which he had bound the blood-stained symbol of his vow had increased and strengthened into an oak, far indeed from its maturity, but with no mean spread of shadowy branches. There was one singularity observable in this tree which made Reuben tremble. The middle and lower branches were in luxurious life; and an excess of vegetation had fringed the trunk almost to the ground; but a blight had apparently stricken the upper part of the oak, and the very topmost bough was withered, sapless, and utterly dead. Reuben remembered how the little banner had fluttered on that topmost bough, when it was green and lovely, eighteen years before. Whose guilt had blasted it?" - Roger Malvin's Burial
Reuben's failure to fulfill his vow to Roger Malvin results in an immense guilt that affects his entire personality. He becomes a cold man, as dead in spirit as the bough withers in nature. The sight of the bough that once held the blood-stained handkerchief is an ominous symbol of the disease of guilt that had infiltrated every aspect of Reuben's life and culminates in the death of his son Cyrus on the exact spot of Roger Malvin's death.
"The doctor's four venerable friends made him no answer, except by a feeble and tremulous laugh; so very ridiculous was the idea, that, knowing how closely repentance treads behind the steps of error, they should ever go astray again." - Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
Dr. Heidegger warns his friends before drinking the water from the Fountain of Youth to remember and learn from their past mistakes. While his friends are confident that they would surely live more wisely if given a second chance, their actions prove otherwise. Once they drink the potion, they all return to the evils of their youth. Only Dr. Heidegger himself, who does not drink the water, proves to have earned the wisdom of his old age.
"'My poor Aylmer,' she repeated, with a more than human tenderness, 'you have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that, with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer.'" - The Birthmark
Alymer strives, in "The Birthmark", for goals that go beyond the bounds of nature. His scientific pursuits often fail, demonstrating the limitations of earthly beings in meddling with higher goals. As Georgiana dies, she utters this quote, completely at ease with death and her understanding of her husband. She holds no ill will over his aim, which ultimately led to her demise. Rather, she calls his work "noble" and praises him for rejecting the "best the earth could offer"; she understands his desire to triumph over mortality and imperfection. This quote demonstrates not only the immense understanding Georgiana has for her husband and his scientific ideals, but also the admiration that many may have for an aggressive pursuit of higher knowledge, a perhaps conflicted admiration that is also reflected in the themes of "Rappaccini's Daughter".
"To Beatrice,--so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon by Rappaccini's skill,--as poison had been life, so the powerful antidote was death; and thus the poor victim of man's ingenuity and of thwarted nature, and of the fatality that attends all such efforts of perverted wisdom, perished there, at the feet of her father and Giovanni." - Rappaccini's Daughter
In a quest to protect his daughter from the dangers of the world, Rappaccini nourished Beatrice with poison in order to create a woman who was as deadly as she was beautiful. Baglioni, however, gives Giovanni an antidote - but in eliminating the poison within Beatrice, the antidote sucks away her very essence of life. Beatrice, therefore, is sacrificed by the skill and intent of many. Rappaccini, who infused her with poison in the first place, demonstrates how an attempt to thwart nature with science in creating a super-human being only results in fatality. Similarly, though Baglioni criticizes Rappaccini for putting science above humanity, even he takes greater interest in Beatrice as a tool of revenge against her father than Beatrice as a person. Giovanni, likewise, believes that he understands and loves Beatrice, but lashes out at her with distrust and disdain, showing that he cares much more for himself than for her. Beatrice, the most innocent and genuine character, is sacrificed at the hands of the three men.
"It was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints." - Young Goodman Brown
Upon entering the witches' gathering, Goodman Brown sees people from the highest and lowest of social classes mingling together as if their bond transcended customary relationships in Salem. While in Puritan society those who were of high standing were considered moral, religious people, the gathering blurs the distinction between status, morality, and their opposites. This disconnect between holiness and social standing is one of the most telling aspects of the ceremony for Goodman Brown, the culmination of the doubts that the devil in the forest first implanted into his mind. Though proud of his father and grandfather, Goodman Brown learns that even men who were near and dear to his heart took part in these "evil" adventures. After seeing all the people he once revered mingling with people of known sin, Goodman Brown is unable, on his return to the village, to see those same "honorable" people as he once did.
"All through life that piece of crape had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman's love, and kept him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart; and still it lay upon his face, as if to deepen the gloom of his darksome chamber, and shade him from the sunshine of eternity." - The Minister's Black Veil
In "The Minister's Black Veil," Mr. Hooper lies on his deathbed, still wearing the veil that changed his life forever. Once loved by all the townspeople, Mr. Hooper died a lonely man, his connections to others severed by the mere donning of the veil. The people, full of sin themselves, felt fear and resentment when they saw the physical symbol of sin on the minister's face. The fact that he wore it to his deathbed only frightened them more, as this was the time when he should be forgiven of his sins, ready to meet the Lord in Heaven, and happy to see the "sunshine of eternity." Until death, he is a lonely man, confined to a prison of his own making; he is left alone with his afflicted thoughts and fears.
"Would that I had a folio to write, instead of an article of a dozen pages! Then might I exemplify how an influence beyond our control lays its strong hand on every deed which we do, and weaves its consequences into an iron tissue of necessity." - Wakefield
Here, the narrator - who it can be surmised is Hawthorne himself - suggests that Wakefield's actions were dictated by a force stronger than will. Wakefield, and every man, may follow his desires but there remains a guiding presence which steers them along their life. Accordingly, the outcome becomes inseparable from the act itself. Wakefield's punishment of loneliness is unavoidable. For Hawthorne and his characters, neither joys nor sins go unrewarded.
"He had contrived, or rather he had happened, to dissever himself from the world,--to vanish,--to give up his place and privileges with living men, without being admitted among the dead." - Wakefield
Wakefield created for himself a fantasy world in which he was a man, but not a man at all. Rather than a complete removal from the world, such as suicide, Wakefield distances himself in a hauntingly peculiar way - by eliminating his earthly responsibilities but not his actual life. Wakefield was able to experience a half-way position between life and death - he wasn't entirely living, as he spent his days in solitude, as if a ghost of his prior self. Yet, he wasn't entirely dead, and was able to resume his position at any time.
"'The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims! The only sin that deserves a recompense of immortal agony!'" - Ethan Brand
In "Ethan Brand," Brand believed that the quest for the Unpardonable Sin itself resulted in what he was looking for. In searching for a higher "intellect," he cast aside the "sense of brotherhood" among men as well as "reverence for God". During his journey, for example, he made one young woman, Humphrey's daughter, the victim of his research. The psychological experiment he conducted on her "wasted, absorbed, and perhaps annihilated her soul, in the process." In seeking knowledge, he sacrificed all else, both his morality and the morality of others, and a basic respect for both humankind and the Creator.
"There they stood, in the first hour of wedlock, while the idle pleasures, of which their companions were the emblems, had given place to the sternest cares of life, personified by the dark Puritans. But never had their youthful beauty seemed so pure and high, as when its glow was chastened by adversity." - The Maypole of Merry-Mount
The mirth of the merrymakers is not genuine happiness; though sadness is "high treason" at Merry Mount, perhaps the understanding of true happiness relies on an understanding of adversity. The newlyweds understand this concept; they feel a disconnect with the others in their crowd, because they have experienced the true emotion of love. The happiness derived from earthly pleasures is easily smothered by the Puritan attack. On the contrary, the love of the newlyweds, and true emotional connection and happiness, is only deepened by adversity.
Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories Questions and Answers
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Goodman Brown is unsure whether the experience of the occult forest ceremony was real or simply a dream. Regardless, he returns to Salem a changed man, doubtful of everyone else's piety. In short, he has lost his faith in mankind, perhaps even in...
Study Guide for Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories
Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories study guide contains a biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis of Hawthorne's short stories.