Nathaniel Hawthorne Weaves Dreams Into Much of His 19th Century Prose

ENG 1015, Sec. 331
March 19, 1997

Nathaniel Hawthorne Weaves Dreams into Reality in
Much of His 19th Century Prose


Nathaniel Hawthorne, a master of American fiction, often utilizes dreams within the annals of
his writings to penetrate, explore and express his perceptions of the complex moral and spiritual conflicts that plague mankind. His clever, yet crucial purpose for using dreams is to represent, through symbolism, the human divergence conflict manifested in the souls of man during the firm Christian precepts of the Era in which he lived. As a visionary in an extremely conservative Puritanical society, he carefully and successfully manages to depict humanity\'s propensity for sin and secrecy, and any resulting punishment or atonement by weaving dreams into his tales. The dreams he refers to in many of his writings are heavily symbolic due to his Christian foundation, and they imply that he views most dreams as a pigmentation of reality. Hawthorne\'s ability to express and subsequently bring to fruition the true state of man\'s sinful nature by parallelling dreams with reality represents not only his religious beliefs but also his true mastery of observation regarding the human soul.
An examination of Hawthorne\'s own narrative in his short story, The Birthmark, published in 1850 during the latter part of the period of Puritanism expands his observations of mankind with keen insight.
Truth often finds its way to the mind close-muffled
in robes of sleep, and then speaks with uncompromising
directness of matters in regard to which we practice
an unconscious self-deception, during our waking
moments. (par.15)
The prophetic statement was made by Hawthorne to open the reader\'s mind and perhaps inject an introspective glimpse of his perspective that dreams do indeed contain precursors or warnings of future conscious realities. He also contends that people often purposely disregard the contents of their dreams and do not face the realities that they are confronted with while in unconscious moments of slumber. Hawthorne\'s writings are marked by intrinsic depth and a sincere desire to crawl inside of the characters he has created. He accomplishes this objective by allowing them to dream. He makes his presence known by frequently commenting openly throughout his prose and interject a narrative of his assertions. Hawthorne historically has his characters confront reality following a dream, or he reveals that the whole ordeal that his characters have faced are, in fact, dreams. Hawthorne nudges the reader to conclude that dreams can sometimes solve conflicts that are many times categorically denied while one is awake. Hawthorne expresses the fact that dreams are possibly warnings and that often mankind does not heed them. His profound statement about dreams suggests that by paying attention to the sleeping imagination, a person might reconcile adverse moral behavior and establish more balance and clarity of reality while they are awake.
The Bible was a direct source of reference for Hawthorne. He grew up reading and studying religious concepts. In the Book of Job, Elihu\'s speech to Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar expresses Hawthorne\'s belief in God\'s "answer" to mankind\'s sinfulness.
For God speaks again and again, in dreams, in visions of the
night when deep sleep falls on men as they lie on their beds. He
opens their ears in times like that, and gives them wisdom and
instruction, causing them to change their minds, and keeping
them from pride, and warning them of the penalties of sin, and
keeping them from falling into some trap. (Book of Job 33:14-18)
Elihu\'s speech and other similar biblical scripture were part of Hawthorne\'s personal conceptual beliefs. His foundation consisted of these early Puritanical Christian precepts. These teachings reveal the significance as to the reason he believed dreams to be a reflection of the waking mind and subsequent approaching events. The Bible was considered the law among Puritanists and sacred biblical history is threaded with incidents of dream prophecy. The mystery that surrounds human existence and the need to trust God was imbedded in Hawthorne\'s own infrastructure at a profound level. Hawthorne believed that mankind simply did not have enough knowledge to explain why things happen the way they do, and that people do not so much need answers to life\'s problems, as they need God Himself. Hawthorne created angles in his writings by