Hawthorne’s Style of Writing
in The Scarlet Letter and “Young Goodman Brown”



Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist whose works were deeply concerned with the ethical problems of sin, punishment, and atonement and contributed greatly to the evolution of modern American literature. A New England native, Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804 and died on May 19, 1864 in New Hampshire. An avid seaman, Hawthorne’s father died in 1808 when Nathaniel was only a young child. After his father’s death, Hawthorne showed a keen interest in his father’s worldwide nautical adventures and often read the logbooks his father had compiled from sailing abroad. Hawthorne was a descendant of a long line of New England Puritans, which sparked his interest in the Puritan way of life. After he graduated from Bowdoin College in 1825, Hawthorne returned to his home in Salem where he began to write in semi-seclusion. Hawthorne published his first novel, Fanshawe, in 1828, which he later attempted to destroy because his work received little public recognition. Unable to earn a living by writing, Hawthorne took a job as weigher in the Boston, Massachusetts, customhouse in 1839. Two years later he returned to writing and produced a series of sketches of New England history for children. In 1841 he also joined the communal society at Brook Farm near Boston, hoping to be able to live in such comfort that he could marry and still have time to devote to his writing. In 1842, he married Sophia Amelia Peabody of Salem and settled in Concord, Massachusetts, in a house called the Old Marise. During the four years he lived in Concord, Hawthorne wrote a number of tales. Representative of his own beliefs, Hawthorne developed a unique style of romance fiction. Although Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing style was often viewed as outdated when compared to modern literature, Hawthorne conveyed modern themes of psychology and human nature through his crafty use of allegory and symbolism.
First of all, Hawthorne’s style was commonplace for a writer of the nineteenth century. During the time period in which Hawthorne wrote, it was not easy to reproduce photographs in books because of the lack of printing technology. Therefore, Hawthorne frequently wrote lengthy visual descriptions since his audience had no other means to see the setting of the novel (Magill: 1 840). One example of such descriptions was in The Scarlet Letter when Hawthorne intricately describes the prison door and its surroundings. Another exclusive aspect of Hawthorne’s writing was the use of formal dialogue that remained fairly consistent from character to character (Magill: 2 140). Such overblown dialogue was evident in The Scarlet Letter when the dialogue of Pearl, Hester’s child, exhibited dialogue no different from the other characters in the novel. Hawthorne incorporated the use of overly formal dialogue partly from the British writer, Sir Walter Scott, whose works were popular in the United States and Great Britain (Magill: 1 841). Hawthorne’s dialogue was an accurate tool in describing human emotion despite its formalities (Gale).
Absence of character confrontation was another component of Hawthorne’s literary style. Hawthorne frequently focused more on a character’s inner struggle or a central theme than on heated encounters between characters (Gale). A prime example of this style can be found in The Scarlet Letter due to the fact that the novel was almost solely based on the commandment “Thou shall not commit adultery” (Magill: 1 846). Despite the dated dialogue and dated writing stylehe used, Hawthorne implied various modern themes in his works. One of Hawthorne’s recurring themes throughout his writings was his personal view on human nature. Hawthorne explored an interesting idea of human psychology through his exploration of the dark sides of human consciousness (Magill: 1 841). In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne introduced “a profound comment on the breakdown of human relationships in the society of the seventeenth century” (Harris 304). The theme that wickedness is abundant in human nature was also evident in “Young Goodman Brown” when the protagonist encountered great difficulty in resisting temptation (Magill: 3 1143). Throughout the story, Brown lacks emotion that a normal person would posses due to all the wickedness that has overcome him. The closest Brown comes to showing any emotion is when “a hanging twig, that had been