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Excerpt from Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne

Excerpt from "The Meanings of Hawthorne's Women," lecture delivered Dr. Richard Millington, Smith College. at The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site on September 8, 2000

Dr. Millington points out that "The Birth-mark" is one of a number of Hawthorne's stories that presents male characters as rejecting "the invitation to full, complex, and human life offered by their female counterparts."

"Can we discern a pattern, an implicit analytic shape, to Hawthorne's representation of women, and to his portrayal of gender relations more largely? I think the answer is, emphatically, yes . . . and it was brilliantly and lucidly identified, some years ago, by Nina Baym in her hash-settling essay 'Thwarted Nature: Nathaniel Hawthorne as Feminist.' Baym argues that many of the stories we most value and most often teach compose a sustained analysis of-and a powerful attack upon-male behavior. Again and again, in nascent form in stories like 'Wakefield' and 'Young Goodman Brown,' in full flower in 'The Minister's Black Veil,' 'The Birth-Mark,' and 'Rappaccini's Daughter,' Hawthorne stages encounters between men and women. In these encounters, male characters--their underlying anxiousness and aggression disguised as ambition or obsession--refuse the invitation to full, complex, and humane life offered by their female counterparts. These acts of neurotic refusal punish--and even kill off--the women and yield to the male characters the utterly empty lives they seem all along to seek.

...

...in tales like 'The Birth-Mark,' 'Rappaccini's Daughter,' 'The Minister's Black Veil,' 'Young Goodman Brown,' and 'The Artist of the Beautiful' (not to mention the novels) Hawthorne conducts what seems to me to be an analysis and criticism of male personality unequaled in its depth and rigor. But why should the anxiousness, rigidity, and aggressiveness of male character have emerged so insistently as one of Hawthorne's central subjects."




Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/12129/


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