Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of the most prominent members of the generation of American-born writers who syncretized the many contrasting elements of life in their young country. From the amalgamation of seemingly disparate sources and worldviews, Hawthorne and his contemporaries crafted a literature that was uniquely American, reflecting the concerns and preoccupations of the burgeoning national culture. This culture had its roots firmly in a European tradition, but was transformed into something immutably distinct through the unique experiences of American settlers.
First, Hawthorne’s use of sin, guilt, expiation, and retribution as major structuring devices in the novel will be explored. Then, Hawthorne’s use of elements of the gothic in the novel will be examined, with particular attention paid to the way that these gothic elements both contrast and commingle with the Puritan basis of the novel.
Next, Hawthorne’s use of both Puritan and gothic notions in developing the intricately complex psychological personalities of the characters in the novel will be discussed, noting particularly Hawthorne’s skillful use of both in the exposition of his characters’ alienation, isolation, greed, and pride. Finally, by way of a conclusion, Hawthorne’s approach to his subject matter in The House of Seven Gables will be compared and contrasted to his similar but divergent treatment of similar themes in what many critics consider to be a more accomplished work, The Scarlet Letter.
Although on a personal level, Hawthorne overtly aligned himself with the burgeoning Transcendentalism movement, he was descended from a long line of American-born Puritans, and as such, his experiences and upbringing helped him develop a keen understanding of the tenets of Puritanism. Hawthorne comprehended the complex workings of Puritan thought and the many ways in which this religious doctrine had permeated the mindset of his American compatriots. The end result was the uniquely American character, a combination of dogmatic Puritanism and pioneer diligence and self-sufficiency, which plays a significant role in Hawthorne’s fiction.