UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Nature symbolism and moral isolation in Hawthorne Stott, Jon Copeland


The purpose of this thesis is to present a systematic examination of the major groups of nature symbols used by Hawthorne in his novels and tales treating moral isolation. Since Poe's and Melville's early remarks on Hawthorne's love of allegory and his power of blackness, many critics have studied the extensive use of symbolism and the detailed analysis of human nature in his works. While critics have not ignored the numerous examples of nature symbolism contained in the works, none has made a comprehensive analysis of Hawthorne's systematic patterns. Such an analysis reveals a significant aspect of the already acknowledged depth and genius of his symbolic method and shows that his use of nature symbolism, differing from that of both his puritan ancestors and transcendentalist contemporaries, serves as further evidence of his great artistic originality. In Chapter Two, an examination of The Scarlet Letter, in which nearly all the nature symbols are used, reveals the great richness and complexity with which Hawthorne develops them. The journey into the wilderness is the chief symbol, giving not only a structural unity to several vital chapters in the centre of the novel, but also revealing the extent of the moral isolation of the characters. Within this major pattern, several other patterns emerge: the interplay of sunlight and darkness, the physical nature of the wilderness itself, and the attitudes of the various characters to nature symbolise the moral natures of Hester, Pearl, and Dimmesdale. The following chapters examine the systematic application of each set of symbols to a specific aspect of moral isolation. Moral innocence and attempts to regain or retain it are symbolized by sunshine, flowers and the harmonious relationship of individuals with nature; moral evil and guilt by the journey into the wilderness, the wild nature of the forest itself, and darkness. A third group of symbols relating to the garden reflect another aspect of isolation, that of the isolated individual attempting to enter into contact with others. Within each of these three symbolic patterns, the individual symbols are modified to reflect the unique moral conditions of the particular characters. Hawthorne's use of nature imagery takes on added significance when considered in relation to his allegorical method. It becomes an integral part of the method by which he was able to retell old material and common themes in such a way as to give each a new life and meaning. It is a part of the method which has helped to establish his position as a major American author.

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