Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories

Twice-Tilled Tracts: Revisions of the Garden of Eden in Hawthorne's Short Stories

Hawthorne marks his characters as potential usurpers of God who are undermined by an inability to negotiate with human chaos. Confronted with examples of imperfection or fragmentation, the scientific minds of "The Birthmark," "Rappaccinis Daughter," and "Ethan Brand" attempt to efface or fuse flaws as they seek an impossible ideal of total encapsulation and order. Unsatisfied with writing a Psalm, they try to script the entire Bible. This analogy is not incidentalthe three stories are all, to some extent, revisions of the Garden of Eden tale. The trio attempts to reconfigure Original Sin, either by blotting it out or by internalizing and conquering sin to the point of self-deification. The latter is particularly key for Hawthorne, a writer who crafts his prose with immaculate precision and detail, ostensibly the marks of the omniscient narrator. Yet Hawthorne concedes the impossibility of full comprehension of a character, or at least his unwillingness to seek such a conclusive appraisal, and consequently refrains from directing the reader to a similar resolution.

Fragmentation runs through "Ethan Brand," so much that the story is subtitled "A Chapter From an Abortive Romance."...

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