American Writers And Their Works: Hawthorne, Poe, Essay

This essay has a total of 3757 words and 16 pages.

American Writers And Their Works: Hawthorne, Poe, And Whitman


American Writers and Their Works: Hawthorne, Poe, and Whitman

Out of all the great authors and poets we have studied this semester I have chosen the
three that I personally enjoyed reading the most; Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe,
and Walt Whitman. These three Writers stand out above the rest for each has contributed
substantially to bringing forth a newly earned respect for American Writers of Literature.
Up until this point in time most literature had come from European writers. Hawthorne, Poe
and Whitman brought not only great works of art to our newly formed nation, but also to
the world in general.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, the descendent of a
long line of Puritan ancestors, including John Hathorne, a presiding magistrate in the
Salem witch trials. After his father was lost at sea when he was only four, his mother
became overly protective and pushed him toward more isolated pursuits. Hawthorne's
childhood left him overly shy and bookish, and molded his life as a writer. Hawthorne is
one of the most modern of writers who rounds off the puritan cycle in American writing

Hawthorne turned to writing after his graduation from Bowdoin College. His first novel,
Fanshawe, was unsuccessful and Hawthorne himself disavowed it as amateurish. However, he
wrote several successful short stories, including "My Kinsman, Major Molyneaux," "Roger
Malvin's Burial" and "Young Goodman Brown." However, insufficient earnings as a writer
forced Hawthorne to enter a career as a Boston Custom House measurer in 1839. After three
years Hawthorne was dismissed from his job with the Salem Custom House. By 1842 his
writing amassed Hawthorne a sufficient income for him to marry Sophia Peabody and move to
The Manse in Concord, which was at that time the center of the Transcendental movement.
Hawthorne returned to Salem in 1845, where he was appointed surveyor of the Boston Custom
House by President James Polk, but was dismissed from this post when Zachary Taylor became
president. Hawthorne then devoted himself to his most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. He
zealously worked on the novel with a determination he had not known before. His intense
suffering infused the novel with imaginative energy, leading him to describe it as the
"hell-fired story." On February 3, 1850, Hawthorne read the final pages to his wife. He
wrote, "It broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I look upon
as a triumphant success."

The Scarlet Letter was an immediate success and allowed Hawthorne to devote himself to his
writing. He left Salem for a temporary residence in Lenox, a small town the Berkshires,
where he completed the romance The House of the Seven Gables in 1851. While in Lenox,
Hawthorne became acquainted with Herman Melville and became a major proponent of
Melville's work, but their friendship became strained. Hawthorne's subsequent novels, The
Blithedale Romance, based on his years of communal living at Brook Farm, and the romance
The Marble Faun, were both considered disappointments. Hawthorne supported himself through
another political post, the consulship in Liverpool, which he was given for writing a
campaign biography for Franklin Pierce.

Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire after a long period of
illness in which he suffered severe bouts of dementia.. Emerson described his life with
the words "painful solitude." Hawthorne maintained a strong friendship with Franklin
Pierce, but otherwise had few intimates and little engagement with any sort of social
life. His works remain notable for their treatment of guilt and the complexities of moral
choices.

In The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, many of the characters suffer from the tolls
of sin, but none as horribly as Hester's daughter Pearl. She alone suffers from sin that
is not her own, but rather that of her mother. From the day she is conceived, Pearl is
portrayed as an offspring of vice. She is brought introduced to the discerning, pitiless
domain of the Puritan religion from inside a jail, a place where no light can touch the
depths of her mother's sin. The austere Puritan ways punish Hester through banishment from
the community and the church, simultaneously punishing Pearl in the process. This
isolation leads to an unspoken detachment and animosity between her and the other Puritan
children. Thus we see how Pearl is conceived through sin, and how she suffers when her
mother and the community situate this deed upon her like the scarlet letter on her
mother's bosom.

Hester Prynn impresses her feelings of guilt onto Pearl, whom she sees as a reminder of
her sin, especially since as an infant Pearl is acutely aware of the scarlet letter A on
her mother's chest. When still in her crib, Pearl reached up and grasped the letter,
causing "Hester Prynne [to] clutch the fatal tokenSso infinite was the torture inflicted
by the intelligent touch of Pearl's baby-hand" (Hawthorne 66). Hester feels implicitly
guilty whenever she sees Pearl, a feeling she reflects onto her innocent child. She is
therefore constantly questioning Pearl's existence and purpose with questions: asking God,
"what is this being which I have brought into the world!" or inquiring to Pearl, "Child,
what art thou?" In this manner, Hester forces the child to become detached from society.
Pearl becomes no more than a manifestation based entirely upon Hester's and Dimmesdale's
original sin. She is described as "the scarlet letter in another form; the scarlet letter
endowed with life!"(70). Due to Hester's guilty view of her daughter, she is unable see
the gracious innocence in her child.

Hester's views toward Pearl change from merely questioning Pearl's existence to perceiving
Pearl as a demon sent to make her suffer. Hawthorne remarks that at times Hester is,
"feeling that her penance might best be wrought out by this unutterable pain"(67). Hester
even tries to deny that this "imp" is her child, "Thou art not my child! Thou art no Pearl
of mine!"(73; 67) It is small wonder that Pearl, who has been raised around sin, becomes
little more than a reflection of her environment. Her own sin leads Hester to believe that
Pearl is an instrument of the devil, when in reality she is merely a curious child who
cherishes her free nature and wants to be loved by her mother. Because of her own profound
sin, Hester is always peering into Pearl's burnt ochre eyes to try to discover some evil
inside her daughter. "Day after day, she looked fearfully into the child's ever expanding
natures dreading to detect some dark and wild peculiarity, that should correspond with the
guiltiness to which she owed her being" (61). Hester ultimately ends up fearing Pearl
because of her inability to overcome her own guilty conscience, and thus fails to command
the respect a mother needs from a child.

Lacking any form of maternal guidance, Pearl pretty much does what she pleases; her
creativity leads her to make up her own entertainment. Pearl's lack of friends forces her
to imagine the forest as her plaything. However, she is clearly upset about her banishment
and resents the people in the town, whom she views as enemies.

Hester feels guilty because she truly believes in her heart that it is her sin causing
Pearl to become aware of harsh realities of the world. Pearl responds to this harshness by
defending her mother, sticking up for Hester against the Puritan children when they start
to hurl mud at her. What stands out is Pearl's love for her mother, and the way she spurns
these "virtuous youths" who condemn her without even knowing the reason. Pearl is a very
vivacious child whose love for her mother is deep even though she does not always show it.

By the end of the story, when Hester is finally able to release her sin, Pearl is no
longer a creation of a clandestine passion but the daughter of a minister and a ravishing
young woman. She is only from that moment onward able to live her life without the weight
of her mother's vice. In fact, Hawthorne points out that she is viewed as normal because
of the burden lifted from her soul: "they [Pearl's tears] were the pledge that she would
grow up amid human joy and sorrow."

Pearl is an offspring of sin whose life revolves around the affair between her mother and
Reverend Dimmesdale. Due to her mother's intense guilt during her upbringing, she is not
able to become more than a mirror image of her surroundings; like a chameleon, she is a
part of everything around her, and the changes that occur externally affect her
internally. Pearl stands out as a radiant child implicated in the sin between her parents.
It is only once the sin is publicly revealed that she is liberated by the truth.

Edgar Allen Poe was one of the most brilliant and original writers in American literature.
Orphaned in 1811, he was raised by Mr. and Mrs. John Allan of Richmond, VA. He attended
the University of Virginia and West Point briefly but was forced to leave both because of
infractions. Poe was an editor, critic, and short-story writer for magazines and
newspapers in Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York City. His compelling short stories,
such as The Masque of the Red Death and The Fall of the House of Usher, create a universe
that is beautiful and grotesque, real and fantastic. Poe is also considered the father of
the modern detective story, e.g., The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841). His poems
(including The Bells, The Raven, and Annabel Lee) are rich with musical phrases and
sensuous images. Poe was an intelligent and witty critic who often theorized about the art
of writing, as in his essay The Poetic Principle. His most important works include The
Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), and
The Raven and Other Poems (1845). A complex and tormented figure, Poe died of alcoholism.

"The Raven" is without a doubt the work for which Poe is best known. Through this poem,
Poe has taken his favorite theme, that of the untimely death of a beautiful woman, and
made that theme universally understandable and fascinating, earning himself literary
immortality in the process. There is no doubt that "The Raven" takes direct influence from
Poe's life experiences. Poe was a moody bookworm, and Virginia Poe's health had been
declining since 1842. Poe's friend, R. H. Horne, wrote of "The Raven," "the poet intends
to represent a very painful condition of mind, as of an imagination that was liable to
topple over into some delirium or an abyss of melancholy, from the continuity of one
unvaried emotion." Poe's life was varied in experience, but as Horne's letter said of
Poe's poetry, static in outlook, and his life's entire tone is perfectly encapsulated in
"The Raven." Poe, like the persona, sought "balm in Gilead," but was, according to
Hammond, "doomed to be frustrated in his quest for a perfect emotional response." Through
"The Raven," Poe makes his personal, introverted hell strangely mesmerizing and attractive
to all, and as a result, "The Raven" is more well known than any of Poe's other poems, and
even more well known than some of his greatest short stories.

"The Raven" takes place on a cold, dark evening in December. A man is attempting to find
some solace from the remembrance of his lost love, Lenore, by reading volumes of
"forgotten lore." As he is nearly overcome by slumber, a knock comes at his door. Having
first believed the knock to be only a result of his dreaming, he finally opens the door
apologetically, but is greeted only by darkness. A thrill of half-wonder, half-fear
overcomes the speaker, and as he peers into the deep darkness, he can only say the word
"Lenore." Upon closing the door, another knock is immediately heard from the chamber's
window. The narrator throws open the shutter and window, and in steps a large, beautiful
raven, which immediately posts itself on the bust of Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of
wisdom, above the entrance of the room. Amused by the animal, the speaker asks it its
name, to which the bird replies "Nevermore." Believing "Nevermore" to be the raven's name,
the narrator's curiosity is piqued, but the speaker believes the name to have little
relevancy to his question, for he had never before heard of any man or beast called by
that name. Although the bird is peaceful, the narrator mutters to himself that it, like
all other blessings of his life, will soon leave him. Again the bird replies "Nevermore."
Intrigued, the speaker pulls a chair up directly before the bird to more readily direct
his attention on the wondrous beast, and to figure out the meaning of the bird's single
monotonous reply. While in contemplation in the chair, the speaker's mind turns to Lenore,
and how her frame will never again bless the chair in which he now reposes. Suddenly
overcome with grief, the persona believes that the raven is a godsend, intended to deliver
him from his anguish, but again comes the bird's laconic reply. The speaker then viciously
rebukes the bird, calling it now to be a "thing of evil," and asks it whether there is
"balm in Gilead," a biblical reference to respite in a land riven with suffering. Again,
the word "nevermore" is the only answer. Shouting maniacally now, demanding that the bird
take its leave, the narrator attempts to dispatch the bird back to the "Plutonian shore"
of Hell from whence it came. The bird, "the emblem of Mournful and Never-ending
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