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Hawthorne: Nature of Humanity


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Nature of Humanity According to Hawthorne Nathaniel Hawthorne was born 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. He descended from a Puritan family who participated in the Salem Witch Trials. His father died when Nathaniel was four, and he did not lead a very exciting or remarkable life. A rich tradition of family and local history provided much of the material for Hawthorne’s works. Nathaniel Hawthorne is mostly preoccupied with human flaws, pervasive evil, and evil in humanity. In his stories, “The Birthmark” and “The Minister’s Black Veil”, Nathaniel Hawthorne attempts to convey the nature of humanity by describing a quest for human perfection, creating a sense of loneliness, and proving that flaws structure humans. “The Birthmark” has a very deep theme: man’s attempts to transform nature in order to make it more perfect than it already is. Aylmer is described in the beginning as a man who is a great scientist and a lover of nature but who also has a beautiful wife whom he loves dearly. Georgiana says, “To tell you the truth it has been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so” (1). “Ah, upon another face perhaps it might,” replied her husband; “but never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection”(2). To Aylmer, his wife is perfect, but Georgiana’s birthmark gives him extreme shock and being a man a science, he wishes to remove it although this idea of shock saddens Georgiana and makes her question Aylmer’s love for her. Hawthorne goes into details of human mortality and spiritual aspects of scientific experiments. “Georgiana”, said he, “has it ever occurred to you that the mark upon your cheek might be removed?”(1). Hawthorne shows us that attempts to take control over nature in order to achieve perfection can be unpredictable and sometimes fatal. “The Minister’s Black Veil” has a theme of loneliness and isolation. Hawthorne goes into details of evil in humanity and how Reverend Hooper undergoes it. He covers his face with a black veil to represent secret sins that people commit everyday. The townspeople think Reverend Hooper has gone mad and completely insane. He becomes an outcast in the town. After the service, those who usually accompany Reverend Hooper out of church do not do so. The parishioner who always invites him to dinner does not invite him on this occasion. “Why do you tremble at me alone?” cried he, turning his veiled face round the circle of pale spectators. “Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and, lo! on every visage a Black Veil!”(327). Hawthorne shows us that everyone sins and no one can hide it. Both of these stories convey that flaws make a human. In “The Birthmark”, Georgiana has a simple imperfection on her left cheek, a birthmark. Aylmer believes the mark is a sign of imperfection on a beauty but Georgiana believes it to be a blessing. She does not mind it being there until her husband, Aylmer, makes a big deal about it. Georgiana is now desperate to get the imperfection removed no matter what it takes. When the time comes, Aylmer secludes himself and Georgiana in his laboratory. She undergoes many experiments done by Aylmer. Aylmer pours a little bit of the liquid on a dying plant, and it turns to life again. Georgiana drinks this last experiment, a gold-colored liquid, and goes into a deep sleep. It heals the crimson red birthmark to the faintest rose color where no one can trace it, and she awakens but only to say that Aylmer has accomplished his goal. A few minutes later, Georgiana notices she is dying. “My poor Aylmer,” she repeated, with a more than human tenderness, “You have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer. Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying!”(16). And with that, Georgiana’s last breath passes into the air and she takes her heavenward flight. Hawthorne portrays the flaws of human sins in “The Minister’s Black Veil”, Reverend Hooper is known to the townspeople of Milford as a “gentlemanly person” with a mild personality. One Sunday morning, he arrives to church with his face covered by a gloomy black veil. The sexton, a person responsible for maintaining the church, is ringing the bell that announces the service will soon begin. His ringing stops abruptly when he is startled by the Reverend Mr. Hooper. Some of the townspeople are confused and cannot believe it is Reverend Hooper, but no one questions him about the veil. He appears not to notice anything out of the ordinary from his parishioner’s reactions although it brings him grief. Reverend Hooper’s bride-to-be, Elizabeth, wants him to take the veil off because it hides a face that she is always glad to look upon. He refuses to take the veil off and says, "There is an hour to come," said he, "When all of us shall cast aside our veils. Take it not amiss, beloved friend, if I wear this piece of crape till then"(323). Reverend Clark from Westbury is summoned to accompany the dying Reverend Hooper. He asks Reverend Hooper if he can take away the veil from his face. Reverend Hooper desperately clings to the veil and his dying claim that everyone wears a veil of secret shame that isolates him from the rest of the world. The characters in “The Birthmark” and “The Minister’s Black Veil” reveal Hawthorne’s attempt to convey the nature of humanity. Although he achieves his goal, Aylmer’s desire for human perfection results in the death of the love of his life. Reverend Hooper tries to prove the point that everyone sins which in doing so makes him lonely. Through both of these character examples, Hawthorne relates how flaws can shape human persona and impact the lives of others.

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