Becoming majestic : theater and the paradox of individuality in the House of the Seven Gables
Most of the criticism on the writings of Hawthorne focus on his family, religion, and class. Each of these themes has a direct connection to Hawthorne’s life: his ancestors were involved in the Salem Witch Trials, something which Hawthorne felt extremely guilty about. These ancestors used religion to defend their decisions and persecution of the “witches” of Salem which lead Hawthorne to see religion as a dangerous and confusing force in society. He also felt conflicted about the status which he inherited from his ancestors. All of this makes the themes of family, religion, and class very attractive and powerful; when interpreting Hawthorne’s work, they are hard to see past. However, Hawthorne’s work is more complicated than that; as Hawthorne himself said, “"When romances do really teach anything, or produce any effective operation, it is usually through a far more subtile process than the ostensible one" (viii). I intend to interpret one of these subtle processes in Hawthorne’s novel, The House of the Seven Gables . I will attempt to move beyond the more common and well documented themes by focusing on the 11th chapter, “The Arched Window”. In this chapter, Hawthorne’s thoughts are more condensed and spoken straight at us rather than through his characters and plots. Through an examination of “The Arched 2 McLain Window” we can find the key to those subtle processes taking place not only in that chapter but in the rest of the book, as well. In “The Arched Window”, Hawthorne makes a change in form in order to put the focus squarely on his main argument: the relationship between the individual and humanity. While the relationship between the individual and their familial guilt as it is shown in Hawthorne’s works has been examined extensively, the relationship between the individual and humanity has been neglected, much like “The Arched Window” itself. I will be using an examination of this chapter to show the methods and motives behind Hawthorne’s establishment of the theatrical stage and the exploration of the paradox of the individual which he enacts upon it.
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