Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Monika M. Elbert

Committee Member

Daniel Bronson

Committee Member

Jonathan Greenberg


This thesis considers the position of the artist in a polarized society experiencing radical extremist political tensions and which demands public allegiance and identification with the dominant ideology. Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose personal origins were grounded in the American past that formed his creative domain, was an astute social critic whose writings in the turbulent period of mid nineteenth-century America reflected an acute awareness of the fundamental crises in his time, such as slavery and the efforts towards its abolition, the perils of regional conflict that threatened national unity, the effects of increasing commercialization and urbanization of American culture and the various utopian movements that attempted to redefine and transform humankind and society.

At the same time, Hawthorne’s profound “aversion to violence, social unrest, moral absolutism, and faulty perception,” (64) in Larry J. Reynolds’ description (2005), prevented him from assuming public positions, but yet allowed him to create works that consider multiple perspectives and which focus on the particular and individual.

Hawthorne’s narrative voice is consistently complex and layered, functioning as a modern iteration of a Greek chorus, simultaneously employing irony and compassion, in exploring the depths of the human heart. In this thesis I consider three works: “Earth’s Holocaust,” a sketch created early in his career. The Blithdale Romance, a novel written during the height of his productive period, and “Chiefly About War Matters,” an essay written during the Civil War, towards the end of Hawthorne’s career and life. Though of varying genres and produced at different times, all three share a first-person narrator.

Reluctant as Hawthorne was to expose aspects of his personal life or to participate in public discourse, his use of the first-person narrator, positioned at the margin of the narrative, allows him to both observe and comment on events and characters. This allows Hawthorne to open a space for inquiry and to question the superficial appearances and certainties of received opinion. Hawthorne’s extensive use of metaphor and historical references creates parallels between the past and the present and suggests the perils of self-delusion and rash, simplistic solutions to complex issues.

Hawthorne’s politics of gradualism and internal change grounded in a deliberate transformation of the human heart challenge the ideology of groupthink and change that is imposed by force or destruction.

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