A study of the artistic use of native materials in Hawthorne's novels



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Hawthorne's love of the past and his study of the history, tradition, and lore of his native New England was engendered by the feeling he had for William Hathorne, that remote ancestor of his who had come so early "with his Bible and his sword and trode the unworn street of Salem" two hundred years before the author's day. This study, combined with a keenness of observation, gave Nathaniel Hawthorne an unexcelled store of material concerning his native land. This material shows to some extent in Fanshawe, the very first novel he wrote. There he combines his own knowledge of fellow college students and those of Cotton Mather's day with material concerning the surrounding terrain and tradition of piracy in the Brunswick area to produce what some critics of the present time have pronounced a very creditable first effort at novel writing. His next novel, published twenty-two years later, was The Scarlet Letter. In it Hawthorne used all the skill he had been developing in his short stories for employing the history, legends, and myths of his country to implement the inward development of his characters. His theme in this book is the effect of hidden sin on the human heart. In developing this theme, he tells the story of Hester Prynne, using mainly the setting, characters, and events recorded by John Winthrop, the first governor and the historian of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. [...]