Document Type


Date of Award



Hawthorne, Nathaniel

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


English, General Literature, and Rhetoric

First Advisor

William B. Stein

Second Advisor

Vincent Freimarck

Third Advisor

Christian P. Gruber


A considerable amount of criticism has been devoted to Hawthorne's fiction, although the larger studies usually focus on his novels. When, as in recent years, critics do confront the short stories, some half-dozen frequently anthologized tales are scrutinized carefully for their allegorical, symbolic, or psychological meanings. In “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” for example, one critic isolates the historical-allegorical level, viewing the story as the successful evolution of youthful America from colony to self-ruling country; another focuses on the rites de passage aspect, while a third talks about the Freudian elements present—how Robin, like Reuben Bower in “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” is haunted by Oedipal fears about his surrogate father. However, no critic has managed to consistently synthesize the numerous readings into a coherent “whole.”

Yet a consideration of Hawthorne's life of the imagination resolves this problem. Consequently the present examination will pursue a new tack. Instead of championing one particular reading above another, this study will attempt to organize the multiple levels of meaning in order to elucidate more fully Hawthorne’s fictional aesthetic. More specifically, to analyze Hawthorne's account of the act of artistic creation as inferred from the tales, and, concomitantly, from the play of the imagination during the act of artistic creation. Such an examination pivots on tracing the mutations of Hawthorne's experiments with dissolving form. The technique animates his fiction, conveying his perceptions into the nature of reality.

In Hawthorne's better short stories the telling of the tale is as important as, or more important than, the subject. Hawthorne himself alludes to this idea in a note to the editor of Sargent’s New Monthly Magazine, written in 1842: “Whether [the tale has] any interest, must depend entirely on the sort of view taken by the writer, and the mode of execution.” (Italics mine.) The manner versus the matter; the form versus the content—herein lies the artistry. In attempting to capture “the ceaseless flux of mind,” Hawthorne-the-artist utilizes every conceivable linguistic device to authenticate his representation of the imaginative process. By contrast, although the notebooks are frequently helpful for tracing germinal ideas for later stories, they are remarkably arid and devoid of literary merit. It is to his better tales, where the stratagems of execution are most successful, that a proper analysis of Hawthorne's genius must turn.