The transformation of Hilda in Hawthorne's The Marble Faun



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In the early chapters of The Marble Faun, Hilda seems to be far from Nathaniel Hawthorne's ideal of womanhood. She possesses certain characteristics of his beloved wife, Sophia, but she lacks warmth and humor. Her purity of soul does not compensate for her hardness of heart. She never allows that purity to be tried by life, until Hawthorne forces reality upon her and transforms her from a marble maiden into a human woman. Hilda seems to be a comment of Hawthorne on Transcendentalism and its weakness as a way of life. Like the early Emerson, Hilda saw only the beauty of the world, ignoring the evil and the ugliness. Carrying her search for perfection to the extreme, she had shut herself away from humanity, fearing to stain an originally spotless soul. Pleading humility, she was really proud and selfish, seeking a perfection beyond the capability of man. Hawthorne admired Hilda's piety, but he realized that she was destroying her humanity. When she observes the weakness of her friend, she is shocked out of her crysalis of idealism, becoming more like Sophia, sacrificing some of her spiritual gifts for human ones. Hilda begins as a gifted, pious girl, frightened by life and the human condition into seeking an existence on an earthly plane. For Hawthorne this had frightening implications and he felt compelled to subject Hilda to the witnessing of Miriam's sin, which saved her as it transformed her.