Tag Archives: lineage

Symbolism in “The Hollow of the Three Hills” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This is a very short tale, but rich in symbolism. In the opening paragraph, which is a little long, Hawthorne manages to lay the foundation for all the symbols that manifest in the story.

In those strange old times, when fantastic dreams and madmen’s reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life, two persons met together at an appointed hour and place. One was a lady, graceful in form and fair of feature, though pale and troubled, and smitten with an untimely blight in what should have been the fullest bloom of her years; the other was an ancient and meanly-dressed woman, of ill-favored aspect, and so withered, shrunken, and decrepit, that even the space since she began to decay must have exceeded the ordinary term of human existence. In the spot where they encountered, no mortal could observe them. Three little hills stood near each other, and down in the midst of them sunk a hollow basin, almost mathematically circular, two or three hundred feet in breadth, and of such depth that a stately cedar might but just be visible above the sides. Dwarf pines were numerous upon the hills, and partly fringed the outer verge of the intermediate hollow, within which there was nothing but the brown grass of October, and here and there a tree trunk that had fallen long ago, and lay mouldering with no green successor from its roots. One of these masses of decaying wood, formerly a majestic oak, rested close beside a pool of green and sluggish water at the bottom of the basin. Such scenes as this (so gray tradition tells) were once the resort of the Power of Evil and his plighted subjects; and here, at midnight or on the dim verge of evening, they were said to stand round the mantling pool, disturbing its putrid waters in the performance of an impious baptismal rite. The chill beauty of an autumnal sunset was now gilding the three hill-tops, whence a paler tint stole down their sides into the hollow.

So let’s go through the paragraph and look at the various symbols that will come into play during this story.

First are the two women, one young and one old. They represent the maid and crone aspects of the triple goddess. But also, they represent the past and present for the older woman. The younger woman symbolizes the memories of the older. The choices that were made when the woman was young led her to her place now. So when the crone conjures dark memories of the young woman’s past, she is essentially reliving her own memories, which will lead to her liberation from the bonds of guilt and shame.

The next symbol we encounter is the three hills. The three hills represent the three memories which the crone conjures for the young woman. Each of the hills is a painful memory and represents separation, symbolic death (think grave mound). The young woman severed connections with parents, then with husband, and finally with child. In Hawthorne’s time, the only way a woman could be free was to shake off all bonds to family.

Next, we see that the setting of the story is in October. This represents the time of reaping. We all must reap what we sow, and the young woman must face up to the decisions that she made.

Finally, we have the symbol of the fallen tree. This represents the woman’s lineage, or family tree. When Hawthorne writes that there is “no green successor from its roots,” it is a metaphor for the fact that the woman no longer has any family or children to carry on her bloodline. Like the tree, she will just get old and decay.

While this is not a horror story, per se, it is certainly dark and eerie, and a great short read for an October evening.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 13: O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are” by William Shakespeare

Pavel Korin

Pavel Korin

O! that you were yourself; but, love, you are
No longer yours, than you yourself here live:
Against this coming end you should prepare,
And your sweet semblance to some other give:
So should that beauty which you hold in lease
Find no determination; then you were
Yourself again, after yourself’s decease,
When your sweet issue your sweet form should bear.
Who lets so fair a house fall to decay,
Which husbandry in honour might uphold,
Against the stormy gusts of winter’s day
And barren rage of death’s eternal cold?
O! none but unthrifts. Dear my love, you know,
You had a father: let your son say so.

This is another of the first 17 sonnets that deal with the theme of procreation and address the fair youth. What strikes me as different in this one are the declarations of love in the first and thirteenth lines. I do not get the sense that this is anything sexual, but more of a paternal love. I suspect that the speaker sees himself as a father figure to the youth he is advising. In fact, in the final line where he tells the youth “You had a father: let your son say so,” I get the impression he is referring to himself as the father. Also, the fact that the speaker refers to the youth’s father in past tense implies that the actual father is deceased, supporting the idea that the speaker envisions himself as a surrogate father.

Shakespeare employs some of the metaphors we have seen in the previous sonnets on procreation: the transfer of beauty to your children, winter as a symbol for old age and death, and the continuation of one’s lineage as represented by the house symbol.

5 Comments

Filed under Literature

“Sonnet 1: From fairest creatures we desire increase” by William Shakespeare

Titian_WomanWithMirror

Titian

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

As I read this poem, I couldn’t help but think how little has changed in 500 years. We are still obsessed with physical beauty.

The opening line states the obvious—we desire sexual relations with those who possess physical beauty. But the word “increase” ties in with the next several lines. Humans not only desire physical beauty in their partners to satisfy their own pleasure, they also seek attractive partners so that they can pass the traits of physical beauty on to their children, thereby creating a fair bloodline. This was probably more important in Shakespeare’s time when upward mobility along the social ladder was usually gained through advantageous marriages. Having a beautiful daughter could certainly score you a nice dowry.

The middle section of the poem has an interesting shift. Here we see the obsession with beauty from a woman’s perspective. The woman is “contracted to thine own bright eyes,” or obsessed with her reflection in a mirror. She knows that if she is to secure a husband, she must do so while she still has the beauty of youth. She examines every aspect of herself and ornaments herself in order to highlight her appearance.

The ending of this sonnet has a dark, ironic twist. While we may focus on beauty, procreation, and securing our lineage, ultimately, we all face the same end: death. Our flesh will rot and we will become food for the worms. Which begs the question—Is it worth it? I’d like to say it’s not, but I have to be honest with myself. There are advantages to being good-looking. It would be naive to think that unattractive people have the same workplace opportunities as attractive people. While I think we have made progress in this area, your appearance will still have an impact on the opportunities that are presented to you.

I wish I could say we have evolved past this, but alas, tis not so. We may have come a long way as a society, but the fact is, human nature is very slow to change.

6 Comments

Filed under Literature