D. Arner’s “The Story Of Hannah Duston:
Cotton Mather To Thoreau,” p. 21.
Not until Hawthorne became interested in
the Duston family romance did the tale find an artist who fully understood its
moral and psychological ambiguity and who possessed artistic ability to develop
it. A number of historians, however,
were to precede him. The year that
Whittier' s Legends was published, for instance, John Lauris Blake
included Hannah in The Historical Reader, 14 and the next saw
of Haverhill, Massachusetts, with its open condemnation of Mrs. Duston,
followed by Samuel Goodrich's Peter Parley's Method and his First
Book of History for Children and Youth and Charles Goodrich's History
of the United States of America.15
B. Bernard Cohen has
shown that Hawthorne relied most heavily upon Mather, Peter Parley' s
Method, and Mirick.
Hawthorne, like Whittier, was
aware of Hannah's duality, he did not attempt to reconcile her good and evil,
suggesting only that the recollection of her child's murder "hardened
Hannah Duston' s heart.” Otherwise, his attitude suggests his later,
far more complex handling of Beatrice Rappaccini, in whom purity and passion
co-exist, 18 and he leaves us with the conflicting images of a
"good woman" (p. 132) and a "bloody old hag" (p. 136).
Like Dwight, he is more comfort-able with her husband: "This awful
woman, and that tender hearted, yet valiant man. . . will be remembered as
long as the deeds of old times are told round a New England fireside.
But how different is her renown from his!”
sketch is interesting because it condemns Cotton Mather, whom he terms "an
old hard-hearted, pedantic bigot" (p. 135), whose self-righteousness
bothered him as much as Hannah's act.
In a paragraph of sonorous dirge-like vowels, he establishes a colloquy
of voices in which the soft, mournful voice of nature contrasts with Mather' s
strident exultation over the impending death of the savages: "The night
wore on; and the light and cautious slumbers of the red men were often broken,
by the rush and ripple of the stream, or the groaning and moaning of the
forest, as if nature were wailing over her wild children. . . . But, a little
before the break of day, a deep, dead slumber fell upon the Indians. . .. ‘See,’ cries Cotton Mather, triumphantly,
‘if it prove not so?’ “ (p. 135-136).
Hawthorne's borrowings from the Magnalia
are undisguised but integrated into his narrative, his voice
overriding even as it echoes Mather' s. By dealing with the husband and wife separately, he restates
structurally the difference between an unequivocally noble action and a morally
ambiguous one, his imagery supporting our awareness of Hannah's duplex nature. In the conclusion, he registers disapproval
of Hannah but distances himself somewhat by blending his voice into that of
public opinion. His narrative method
anticipates "The Maypole of Merry Mount, " in which the revelers of
Thomas Morton's plantation as children of the Gold Age gradually invite his
criticism for their idleness and frivolity.
Conversely, the Puritans, who enter under a cloud as grim, grey,
heavy-hearted men, slowly reveal their positive qualities. In the same way, Hannah, who appears at
first as a good woman, becomes a hag by the end of the piece. Her antagonists, the Indians, who initially
are pictured as bloodthirsty savages, Hawthorne humanizes until they become the
victims. Since both tales are grounded
in history, we may conjecture that this technique of reversal was
important--perhaps even necessary--to Hawthorne in converting it to fiction.
Source: Robert D. Arner. “The Story Of Hannah Duston: Cotton Mather To Thoreau,” American
Transcendental Quarterly, 18 (1973).
19-23. Used with the author’s