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Introduction to "Ethan Brand

"Ethan Brand": Introduction

Material prepared by:
Richard Murphy, Department of English
Emmanuel College, Boston, MA

Lime Kilns
Lime Kilns
 
In the short story "Ethan Brand," Ethan has an interest in the industrial arts and is the victim of his own alienation in the new industrial age, an age which begins the emphasis on the Protestant Ethic. His alienation is not alienation from the centers of power so much as an alienation from the empathetic value system, sometimes associated with "brotherhood." He becomes an intellectual product of his age who then applies a religious concept, "sin," to his age. His journey inward is that of a man whose heart is marble and whose value system is weighted with the intellect of the age, an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood. When he goes in search for the "unpardonable sin," he finds himself, whereupon he ruins lives and returns to the kiln that symbolizes the industrialist's head alone in thought, unbalanced and as lucid as Lucifer.

We can see that the stroke of luck that may save Joe from the stony heart of his father, Bartram, is Bartram's inclination to follow the rhythm of the sun and moon and not to sacrifice all for "mighty claims" of the intellect. Should he have the will to stare religiously into the fire each night, Joe could be ruined also. The townspeople who come for entertainment leave, indifferent to Ethan's return, not recognizing the lopsided genius of Ethan.

There is nothing to pardon. The morning's light upon the heart-shaped lump of lime wakes no "half-bushel" lesson in anyone in the story. The cur of the new age, chasing its tail by day, by night is "mild, quiet, sensible and respectable." Ethan, the fiend, goes unnoticed, alienated from the society that produced him as surely as it needed the lime that only the brilliance of the kiln could provide. The only one who notices Ethan's hell and the marketplace's scale is the reader. Critics and biographers such as Rita K. Gollin and Edwin Haviland Miller have written on Ethan's alienation. Gollin studies his "homecoming," and Miller places the story of alienation in a significant moment in Hawthorne's career. The story takes on more power when one recalls Claudia Johnson's lecture on the Protestant Ethic and Lyotard's definition of a "differand."


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