Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1841


July 4, 1804 (Salem, Massachusetts, United States)


May 19, 1864 (Plymouth, New Hampshire, United States)


Sophia Peabody


Una, Julien, and Rose Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804, in Salem, Massachusetts, to Nathaniel Hathorne and Elizabeth Clarke Manning. Nathaniel Hawthorne was the second of three children, and the only son of the family. When he was only four years old, his father, a sea captain, died of yellow fever in Surinam, Dutch Guinea. His father's death left Hawthorne's mother in a perpetual state of grief which strongly affected her son and triggered a sadness that lasted Hawthorne's entire life and colored his writing with dark melancholy.

Hawthorne entered Bowdoin College in the year 1821, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1824. He graduated in the year 1825, and published his first novel, Fanshawe, as an anonymous author in 1828. He continued writing and in 1837, published various short stories as Twice Told Tales. In 1838, Hawthorne became engaged to Sophia Peabody and worked at a custom house and joined Brook Farm, a transcendentalist community, before marrying her in 1842. (Hawthorne's experiences at the custom house and Brook Farm influence themes of his novels: specifically, The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance).

The Scarlet Letter was published in 1850 along with various other novels. A political appointment called the Hawthorne family to Europe until they returned in the year 1860. Nathaniel Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, leaving his wife and three children behind.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, served as a judge in the Salem Witch Trials in the year 1692. The execution of many innocent people due solely to blind superstition caused so much guilt and shame in Nathaniel that he changed the spelling of his last name to "Hawthorne".


The main themes that dominate Hawthorne's fiction include: alienation, isolation, sin that is inherited from one's ancestors, pride, guilt, and appearance versus reality. His fiction usually illustrates the tragedy that occurs when a person is isolated from the human community. Those characters that maintain a connection to humanity find happiness, while those who break the connection suffer a life of misery.

Alienation and isolationEdit

Among the strongest themes in Hawthorne's works are the themes of alienation and isolation; the separation of a person from his larger community. These themes come from Hawthorne's Puritan background. Hawthorne believed that every person born into this world was basically evil. In his works, he usually deals with the problem of evil and its consequences.

Ancestral Sin and GuiltEdit

The theme of ancestral sin and the guilt that comes along with it are perhaps the strongest underlying themes in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne. These themes stemmed from Hawthorne's own family history. For Nathaniel Hawthorne sin separated people from each other and could be passed from one generation to the next. Hawthorne himself descended from a line of ancestors known for their stern legalism and involvement in the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.[1]


  1. A Student's Guide to Nathaniel Hawthorne