Tag Archives: Hawthorne

Thoughts on “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorn

My friend Sonia recommended this short story to me as something I might want to consider as part of my Halloween reading list. I love Hawthorn and it has been a while since I read any of his works, so I took her suggestion.

The story is a somewhat eerie tale about a young man who falls in love with a young woman who has a strange attachment to her father’s garden, and in particular one plant that is highly poisonous. It is discovered that the father, a scientist, had been giving her doses of the plant’s poison to make her immune and also instill her with a kind of built in defense against unwanted male advances.

Having read this right after finishing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I was very aware of Hawthorn’s criticism of the tendency of scientific men to want to usurp the power that was traditionally assigned to the divine. And it almost seems like Hawthorn predicted the age of genetically modified organisms that have become the norm in our world of factory farming.

The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several, also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was no longer of God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of experiment, which, in one or two cases, had succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growth of the garden.

What I respect about Hawthorn is that he is critical in all areas. Often, people who are critical of science embrace religion, but Hawthorn is just as critical in this tale about religion as he is science. When Baglioni points out that Rappaccini offered his daughter as a sacrifice to science, it also symbolically parallels Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac to God. Hawthorn is equally appalled at the sacrifice of humanity for any of our gods, whether they be religion or science.

“Her father,” continued Baglioni, “was not restrained by natural affection from offering up his child, in this horrible manner, as the victim of his insane zeal for science. For — let us do him justice — he is as true a man of science as ever distilled his own heart in an alembic. What, then, will be your fate? Beyond a doubt, you are selected as the material of some new experiment. Perhaps the result is to be death — perhaps a fate more awful still! Rappaccini, with what he calls the interest of science before his eyes, will hesitate at nothing.”

There is a lot of other cool symbolism woven into this tale, and I encourage you to read it if you have not yet done so. It’s a great tale with a nice twist at the end. Creepy enough for an evening Halloween season read, but also a thought-provoking parable that forces us to examine our human tendencies toward fanaticism and the desire to manipulate and control Nature.

Thanks for stopping by, and enjoy your reading!

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #6

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Another excellent installment in this arc! I keep thinking that the creative team cannot possibly keep up the quality of the writing and artwork, but yet with every issue I am astounded and impressed.

This issue is based upon a discussion between three familiars: Salem, the cat; and Nag and Nagaina, two cobras. They share the tales about how they were all once human but were transformed into animals. These tales of transformation comprise the issue.

What is so brilliant about this story is that it makes reference to numerous stories and folk tales that are part of our culture. There are allusions to Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Kipling, the Arabian Nights, pirate folklore, and so on. So what this short installment in the graphic series manages to achieve in just a few pages is demonstrate how stories cycle through our history, that our society and culture is guided by the stories that have been retold through generations.

As with so much great literature, you can read this without knowing the references to “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” or having never read “Rikki Tikki Tavi” and still enjoy it for the sheer elegance of the3 writing and the evocative artwork. But having knowledge of these texts adds another level of depth to the tale, making it interesting to a literature nerd like myself as well as being an entertaining read for the average reader.

There is nothing I love more than stories that serve as portals to literature, opening the vistas of the literary world to people who may not have been exposed to it. This is definitely one of those portal tales, or gateway drugs, enticing you into the wonderful world of art and the imagination.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Issue #3

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This graphic tale just gets better and better. It’s scary, exciting, intellectually intriguing, and visually enticing. I cannot find a single flaw in this issue. It is truly a masterpiece of graphic horror.

Sabrina, now turning sixteen on Samhain during a full moon and an eclipse, prepares to participate in the dark baptism, where she will take her place among the followers of Satan. The ceremony is set to take place in the woods, a scene right out of a Nathaniel Hawthorne tale.

… where? Where witches have been dancing with Satan since Lilith was banished from the Garden… the woods, Martin… the woods are the Devil’s cathedral…

The illustrations depicting the ritual are dark, disturbing, and fascinating, all at once. When Sabrina sacrifices the goat to conjure Satan in the flesh, it is like a ghastly and surreal projection from the darkest regions of a Goya painting. This is horror raised to the level of art.

When horror as an art form is done well, it forces one to stare into the darker places within the psyche and face the inner demons that populate that realm. This series does that, and does it well. It is impossible to read this and not get drawn into the story. It is also impossible to read this and not pause to contemplate your own inner darkness. Everything is a balance of light and shadow, and this coaxes you to gaze into that shadowy part of yourself, regardless of how scary it is doing so.

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“The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

MinistersBlackVeilYesterday I told my daughter what I was doing as far as blog posts for the month of October. She quickly suggested that I write a post about The Minister’s Black Veil. She said it wasn’t exactly horror, per se, but it was definitely creepy in a psychological sense. The fact that my daughter would suggest Hawthorne made me a proud father indeed, and the fact that the story she suggested was one that I was unfamiliar with solidified this as the choice for my next post.

It was no surprise that this is a very symbolic tale. In fact, the subtitle is “A Parable,” which implies that there is a moral lesson to be learned and that lesson is likely represented symbolically in the story. To briefly summarize the story, it is a tale about one Reverend Hooper, a minister in a puritanical town, who makes the decision to wear a black veil for the rest of his life, without providing a reason to any of the townsfolk. The townsfolk are horrified by the veil, which they view as a “symbol of a fearful secret between him and them.”

The veil separates Hooper from the rest of humanity. It represents a wall behind which he is trapped, a prisoner within himself. He can never truly connect with another person because there is always a part of him that is hidden, some dark aspect of the self which can never be shown.

All through life the piece of crape had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman’s love, and kept him in that saddest of prisons, his own heart…

Hawthorne is essentially asserting that we all have dark secrets, aspects of ourselves of which we are ashamed, afraid, or disgusted. We harbor thoughts and memories of things that make us sad or fill us with anger and remorse. As a result, no one can really know another person completely. There will always be thoughts or feelings that are not expressed, which remain hidden behind the veil.

“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!”

Reverend Hooper claims that a time will come “when all of us shall cast aside our veils.” But this will never happen as long as we harbor prejudices against others and hide our thoughts. Humanity as a whole must attain a level of acceptance where we realize that we are all the same, that we all have our dark secrets and our inner fears. Once we can accept that about ourselves and others, we can start to open up and hopefully shed our veils.

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“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

YoungGoodmanBrownI heard that this month is National Short Story month, or something like that, so I decided to reread one of my all-time favorite short stories: “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I love a good horror story and this one is about as good as it gets without having to rely on gore. In addition, there are a lot of thought-provoking ideas woven into the story, which makes it all the more interesting to read.

The story takes place in old Salem, where Goodman Brown takes leave of his wife, Faith, to venture into the forest at night for some unstated work that must be done on this specific night between dusk and dawn. On his journey he meets the devil and follows him to a ceremony, possibly a black mass or a witches sabbat, and there he witnesses all the upstanding citizens from his town, including church elders, participating in the dark ritual. He also meets his wife Faith, but before he takes the plunge into sin, he looks upward and prays for the strength to resist the evil one, and awakens unsure whether it was all real or a dream. He then lives the rest of his life as a cynic, distrusting the hypocrisy that he sees around him.

There is so much that I could write about this story, but I’ll try to keep it short. First, I’d like to talk about Faith. Goodman Brown’s wife symbolizes Brown’s own faith and virtue. But his faith is lost when he realizes that all people are essentially evil. At the ceremony, the devil states: “Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness.”

One of my favorite metaphors which is prevalent in American literature is wilderness, representing the dark side of the human soul. This tale takes place in the wilderness, down “a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind.” Goodman Brown plunges into the wilderness, into the darkest corners of his own being, with complete abandon: “The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil.”

In the end he discovers that evil resides within himself, just as it resides within every hypocrite he sees on the streets in his village. He has lost his Faith and no longer finds solace in her bosom. He dies miserably, and “they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.”

There is not much that is cheerful in this story. It is dark all the way through and ends in cynicism. That said, it is such a great story and it forces one to look around and question notions of morality. Even if this is not the type of story you generally read, I highly recommend it. Click here to read it online.

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