Analysis of Three of Hawthorne\'s Works: Solitude and Isolation

Julia Pesaresi Burns 3rd Period Pre-Ap English 20 February 96

Solitude and isolation are immense, powerful, and overcoming feelings.
They possess the ability to destroy a person\'s life by overwhelming it with
gloom and darkness. Isolate is defined: to place or keep by itself, separate
from others (Webster 381). Solitude is "the state of being alone" (Webster 655).
Nathaniel Hawthorne uses these themes of solitude and isolation for the
characters in several of his works. "Hawthorne is interested only in those
beings, of exceptional temperament or destiny, who are alone in the world..."
(Discovering Authors). Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale, Goodman Brown, and
Beatrice Rappaccini are all persons "whom some crime or misunderstood virtue, or
misfortune, has set them by themselves or in a worse companionship of solitude
(Discovering Authors). Hawthorne devoted many stories to isolated characters -
one\'s who stand alone with no one to look to for love or support. "For
Hawthorne, this condition of moral and social isolation is the worst evil that
can befall aman" (Adams 73). Each of the characters above are separated from
the world because of some sin or evil. Their separation is a painful,
devastating feelings. The themes of solitude and isolation are depicted in
Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s The Scarlet Letter, "Young Goodman Brown, "and
"Rappaccini\'s Daughter."
At the age of four, Nathaniel Hawthorne\'s father died, devastating his
mother and destroying his family forever. He later recalls how his mother and
sisters would "take their meals in their rooms, and my mother has eaten alone
ever since my father\'s death" (Martin 10). Naturally, Hawthorne\'s mother\'s
isolated life contributed to his personal solitude and to his stories of
solitude. Although he never reached the point she did, his life too became one
of separation and loneliness. When he was nine, a severe foot injury reduced
his physical activity for almost two years and excluded him from many activities
with other children. Soon after the recovery, his family moved to an isolated
area in Raymond, Maine. It is here that he picked up his first "accursed habits
of solitude" (Martin 3). On his relationship with his mother, Hawthorne said:

I loved my mother, but there has been , ever since my boyhood, a sort
of coldness of intercourse between us, such is apt to come between
persons of strong feelings, if they are not managed rightly (Martin 11).

Hawthorne never had a strong, healthy family life. However, his lonely
childhood was only the beginning to the many solitude years he would experience.
1825-1837 have traditionally been termed the years of solitude in
Hawthorne\'s life. During this time, he is described as having "a sombre, half-
disappointed spirit" (Newman 127). However, "These years were solitary to an
unusual degree, but not in the sense of a hermit\'s deliberate withdrawal from
the world" (Stewart 27). Hawthorne used this time to write several of his
stories. "His chief object was to master the writer\'s difficult art - something
which cannot be done in the hubbub of social activity" (Stewart 27). "His
household being made up of strong- attached yet reticent people each of whom
maintained a well- developed sense of solitude, thus gave Nathaniel the privacy
that he required" (Martin 11). Therefore, he kept to himself spending "many
lonely and despondent hours in the chamber where fame was won" (Stewart 37). By
1838, Hawthorne had created forty-four tales and one novel. In 1837, he became
engaged to Sophia Peabody. At this point, his life of loneliness left him; he
felt invigorated and alive for the first time. In one of his many letters to
her, he wrote "And sometimes (for I had no wife then to keep my heart warm) it
seemed as if I were already in the grave, with only life enough to be chilled
and benumbed (Martin 15). Hawthorne realized how isolated his life had become
from the world. Sophia helped to pull him out of this solitary period.
The adulteress act of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, in The
Scarlet Letter, forces the two to live in isolation for the rest of their lives.
"Hester and Dimmesdale sin and are isolated by that sin" (Ringe 90). Hester
Prynne, "alone and independent by decree..." (Martin 118), spends all her time
in her tiny home with only her baby, Pearl. After the first scaffold scene,
both Hester and Dimmesdale "begin to work out their penance in isolation" (Ringe
90). Hester feels so guilty and sinful that she wants to be away from the world.
"[She] becomes absorbed with a morbid meddling of conscience, and continues to
focus her attention on self