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Ethan Brand

In the chapter of Edwin Haviland Miller 's Salem Is My Dwelling Place, published by the University of Iowa Press in 1991, from which this excerpt is drawn, Edwin Haviland Miller puts the writing of "Ethan Brand" in the context of Hawthorne's life at the time. The reader can find parallels between the theme of alienation in the story and in Hawthorne 's life.

"In the winter of 1848-1849 Hawthorne completed the first tale he had written since 1844, 'Ethan Brand---A Chapter from an Abortive Romance,' which has always been one of his most popular and memorable stories. Brand pursues the unpardonable sin and in the process commits it, destroying connections between head and heart, severing the magnetic bonds of humanity. After eighteen years of fruitless journeying and the corruption of a villager named Esther, Brand returns to the limekiln near North Adams, Massachusetts, at the foot of Mount Greylock, where in his youth he tended the furnace. The circle of his life is about to close" (265). (courtesy of University of Iowa Press)


"That evening, estranged from humanity, he sits alone before the kiln engaged in what is to be his final stocktaking. Having 'lost his hold of the magnetic chain of humanity,' he is 'now a cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his experiment.' He climbs to the top of the tower and looks down into a fire 'sending up great spouts of blue flames, which quivered aloft and danced madly, as within a magic circle.' Indicting himself as a 'fiend,' he cries out to 'Mother Earth, . . . who art no more my Mother, and into whose bosom this frame shall never be resolved! . . . Come, deadly element of Fire---henceforth my familiar friend! Embrace me as I do thee!" With this wrenching cry of total emptiness he plunges into the limekiln.

The next morning Bartram, Brand's successor, and his son Joe climb to the top of the kiln and look down into the snow-white lime: 'In the midst of the circle---snow-white too, and thoroughly converted into lime---lay a human skeleton, in the attitude of a person who, after long toil, lies down to long repose. Within the ribs--- strange to say---was the shape of a human heart.' Delighted that his kiln "is half a bushel the richer for him,' Bartram drops his pole into the kiln, and 'the relics of Ethan Brand were crumbled into fragments.' 'Ethan Brand,' Hawthorne admits, did not experience an easy birth: 'I have wrenched and torn an idea out of my miserable brain, or rather, the fragment of an idea, like a tooth ill-drawn and leaving the roots to torture me.' The description anticipates Kafka's: 'The story came out of me like a real birth, covered with slime and blood.' Hawthorne never wrote another chapter to his 'Abortive Romance'---rightly so. As a fragment it makes a frightening statement" (265-266). (courtesy of University of Iowa Press)


"As soon as Hawthorne learned of the campaign to unseat him, he set the wheels turning for a full-scale counteroffensive which in the next few months would involve political figures as influential as Daniel Webster and newspapers of both parties in Salem, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and probably elsewhere. His cause became one of those much-discussed scandals which temporarily arouse partisan outcries and extend language to its outer limits, only to be barely remembered within six months or a year. Hawthorne's case was an exception, for, his sensibilities wounded--'my head has been chopt off' was the way he characterized the indignity--he attacked those who in his perception had deprived him of livelihood as well as of masculinity: Hawthorne had a way of transforming situations into confirmations of lifelong fears.

What rankled many people in Salem, particularly among the local Whigs, was the support Hawthorne received from outsiders. Salem Democrats were also annoyed by this outside support as well as by Hawthorne's well-publicized abstention from the usual party activities such as parades, conventions, committees. As Hawthorne himself noted when he began to defend his position and his integrity, 'A large portion of the local Democratic party look coldly on me, for not having used the influence of my position to obtain the removal of Whigs.' The truth apparently was, if it is possible to arrive at truth in emotionally charged situations where ideologies and self-interest inevitably produce distortions, that Hawthorne had lost the support of many Salem Democrats, merchants, and even friends like Horace Conolly and Caleb Foote (267)


Except for the local newspapers, the press treated Hawthorne sympathetically, as an Owen Warland battling against the philistines" (270). (courtesy of University of Iowa Press)


"Almost a year after his official 'decapitation' and the publication of The Scarlet Letter, his feelings toward Salem and its inhabitants had not changed. He delighted in his (imaginary) martyrdom: 'I wish they would tar-and-feather me---It would be such an entirely novel kind of distinction for the literary man!'" (276). (courtesy of University of Iowa Press)

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