John Hathorne, 1717, Charter St. Burying Ground(Photography by Joseph R. Modugno)
Hawthorne's interest in the
Puritan persecution of the Quakers grew, at least in part, out of the fact that
his ancestor, William Hathorne, was one of those responsible for their mistreatment
in the 1650's. It is William to whom Hawthorne alludes in "Young Goodman Brown"
when the devil explains that he was present when Brown's grandfather "lashed
the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem," behavior that Hawthorne
found deplorable. However, if he expresses frank sympathy with the Quakers in
"Young Goodman Brown," "Main Street," and The Scarlet Letter, that feeling
is mitigated in other tales such as "The Gentle Boy" where we see Catherine,
the Quaker mother of Ibrahim, the gentle boy who gives the story its title,
behaving with the same kind of intolerant fanaticism that so discouraged Hawthorne
when displayed by the Puritans. There is, too, an implied criticism of Quaker
fanaticism in Hawthorne's sketch, "Mrs. Hutchinson" as the religious audacity
of Antinomian Anne Hutchinson reflects the behavior Hawthorne rejects in Catherine.
It may well be that Hawthorne's aversion to fanaticism of any sort can be explained
by his wry assessment in The House of the Seven Gables of the efforts
of Cotton Mather and others to rid the colonies of those they perceived to be
witches: "Since those days, no doubt, it had grown to be suspected, that, in
consequence of an unfortunate overdoing of a work praiseworthy in itself, the
proceedings against the witches had proved far less acceptable to the Beneficent
Father than to that very Arch Enemy whom they were intended to distress and
utterly overwhelm." It is likely that Hawthorne scented in any "unfortunate
overdoing" the aroma of pride, that deadly sin that ruins so many of his characters.