The Power of Nathaniel Hawthorne
New England in the early 1800's, before the Civil War, was a place teeming with artists, intellectuals, and reformers of every sort. Many of America's great literary geniuses came out of this era; and among the greatest of these was Nathaniel Hawthorne. He was, as Q. D. Leavis put it, "the critic and interpreter of American cultural history and thereby the finder and creator of a literary tradition (Kaul 27)," and, "a sociological novelist in effect, employing a poetic technique which communicates instead of stating his findings (Kaul 28)." In his stories, Hawthorne pointed out many characteristics of American society and of human nature, and brought about a new tradition in American literature.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, amidst much celebration, for it was the Fourth of July, 1804. His father, Nathaniel Hathorne (when Hawthorne began writing he changed the spelling), was a sea captain. His mother was Elizabeth Clarke Manning. He had an older sister, Elizabeth, called Ebie, and a younger named Maria Louisa. In 1808, the year of Louisa's birth, his father died while on a voyage in Surinam. Mrs. Hathorne soon moved her family to the nearby Manning house, where she had grown up and where her family still lived. For the better part of Nathaniel's childhood, the family remained dependent on relatives.
When he was nine years old, Nathaniel severely sprained his foot, and for three years was badly crippled. No longer able to participate in childhood games, he became an avid reader. He spent evenings lying in front of the fireplace reading the classics and playing with the cats, of which he was very fond (Van Doren 10). These years in which he could do little more than read birthed in him a love of literature, and also an understanding of it.
In 1816, Elizabeth Hathorne and her family spent the summer with relatives in Raymond, Maine. They did so again the next summer, and in 1818 became, in Elizabeth's words, "permanent residents" of Raymond (Van Doren 11). In the Maine wilderness, Nathaniel, who because of his injury had become gloomy and listless with the belief that he would never be active again, learned once more to have a good time. His foot had gradually healed, and the woods of Raymond were a place for him to run free and recuperate from the town life that had cramped him. He enjoyed the time in Raymond thoroughly, and hated to leave when, in 1819, his mother decided it was time for him to prepare for the rest of his life. Nathaniel was sent back to Salem, to live once more with his Manning relatives while he was being tutored by Benjamin Oliver in preparation for college.
For admission to Bowdoin College, he had to learn "to write Latin grammatically, and to be well versed in Geography, in Walsh's Arithmetic, Cicero's Select Orations, the Bucolics, Georgics, and the Aeneid of Virgil, Sallust, the Greek Testament, and the Collectanea Graeca Minora (Van Doren 16)."...