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Ethan Brand

In the chapter of Edwin Haviland Miller 's Salem Is My Dwelling Place 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. In this excerpt, the reader can find parallels between the theme of alienation in the story and in Hawthorne's life.

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)




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