Transcendentalism In Nathaniel Hawthorne's Relationship With Women

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American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, quite simply, had a complicated relationship with women. When his father died from Yellow Fever in 1808, Hawthorne, then only four-years-old, was left to be raised by his mother and two sisters (Conway 16). Hawthorne’s childhood, which was shaped almost entirely by women, proved to have a profound impact on his life and perception of femininity. Consequently, Hawthorne more fully understood women and created female characters who were multifaceted, nuanced, and possessed a level of depth uncommon in nineteenth century literature. Hawthorne, however, was far from being above the accepted misogyny and rigid gender roles of early America. In one famous instance, Hawthorne wrote a letter to his publisher which…show more content…
As a predominantly Gothic writer, Hawthorne’s interpretation of the human experience was much darker than the Transcendental ideal. Despite this, Hawthorne married accomplished painter and Transcendentalist Sophia Peabody who convinced him to live for one year at Brook Farm, a Massachusetts commune dedicated to equality and harmony (Millington 16). During his time at Brook Farm, Hawthorne learned to appreciate the Transcendentalist interpretation of nature as a freeing entity which brought one closer to God. Hawthorne, though, never subscribed fully to the movement and often criticized the Transcendental belief of individual purity, instead believing that the human spirit was destructive and inherently sinful. Ultimately, Hawthorne’s indeterminate stance on Transcendentalism, and by extension feminism, was reflected in his writing because these alternative principles collided with his Gothic roots. Hawthorne’s work simultaneously adheres to and abandons both genres to create an uncharted literary landscape in which his female characters are progressively broad-minded and yet cruelly subjected to the darkest extremes of a male-dominated society — a landscape where the authenticity and…show more content…
Giovanni is characterized as a narcissistic man who “ha[s] not a deep heart” (Hawthorne 438) and is committed to self-preservation and pretense. Conversely, Hawthorne subtly alludes to Beatrice’s goodness by making a reference in the piece’s introduction to Dante’s The Divine Comedy in which one of the pious guides who attempts to save Dante from Hell is also named Beatrice (Hawthorne 430). Hawthorne builds upon this model by describing Beatrice as “an extraordinary being” (Hawthorne 438) and a “heavenly angel” (Hawthorne 447) who possesses the highest integrity. She is innocent, loving, and deeply connected to the natural environment in which she is confined. Transcendentalists believed in the inalienable purity of nature but felt that modernization was leading humanity farther from ITS organic roots. Thus Beatrice’s poisonous nature, as opposed to an extension of her negative influence in a Gothic interpretation, is actually a Transcendental critique on the effects of modernization and science. When Giovanni first enters the garden, he notes that “the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of man’s depraved fancy” (Hawthorne 440). Giovanni’s remark shows that the garden was in its conception divine, but men like Dr. Rappaccini attempted to shape the environment in immoral ways,

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