What are the descriptions of the characters of "The Ambitious Guest?"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Interestingly, Hawthorne molds his characters of "The Ambitious Guest" quaintly, yet convincingly to his theme of the unexpectedness of death. In fact, some of them even speak of the mortality of his or her life.

  • the "ambitious guest" - A wayfaring youth who stops at a cottage located in "the bleakest spot of all New England," he finds himself surrounded in "kindly warmth," especially in the eyes of the eldest daughter of the family. When the landlord asks him about his travels, the youth, who is warming himself at the fire, also finds warmth of feeling emanating from the family. So, he speaks freely of his yearning to make his mark in life. later observing: "It is our nature to desire a monument...in the universal heart of man."
  • the father - After listening to the youth, the father resurrects some of his old yearnings: He speaks of his having wished for a prosperous farm, his rise to the position of Squire who has political position and power. Adding that he would like his family to be so proud and fond of him that they would greatly mourn his death and erect a gravestone with his name, age, and a Bilble verse or religious hymn upon it, he wishes that people would know that he "died a Christian." Ironically, when a wagon of two or three men are heard singing outdoors, the father does not lift the latch this time as he has done so readily for the "ambitious guest."
  • the little boy - Having "caught the infection" from the fireside discussions, one of the children, a boy, wants everyone to go right away and take a drink from the basin of the "Flume," a stream that flows over the precipice of "the Notch" where the family lives. Because the father does not open the door to the wagon of men, the boy is disappointed, bemoaning, "They'd have given us a ride to the Flume."
  • the eldest daughter - Having heard the celebration of the men in the wagon, the daughter expresses her loneliness. The guest asks her if may be allowed to put her feelings into words, but she refuses, declaring that then the feelings would not be hers; in truth, she is embarassed to express her new affection for the youth. She is, thus, reticent about her yearnings.
  • the grandmother - Like the father, she, too, speaks of her death and the wishes for her burial. Explaining that she is haunted by an old superstition that if her burial clothes may not be put on her correctly with no ruff that is not smooth, or cap that is not set right upon the head, her corpse will be disturbed and will have to "put up its cold hands" under the earth and rearrange all that is imperfect.  So, she requests her family to put a mirror to her dead face in the chance that she will see that they have dressed her appropriately and she can rest in death.

In response to the words of the family, the guest, with profound dramatic irony, says,

"Young and old, we dream of graves and monuments....I wonder how mariners feel when the ship is sinking, and, they...are to be buried together in the ocean--that wide and nameless sepulcher?"

His words are prophetic as the cottagers hear the sound they have long dreaded. They rush to the shelter they have devised, but as fate would have it, the rock slide "broke into two branches" and goes around the cottage, now the empty monument of their lives, and they are swallowed into the "nameless sepulcher" of the avalanche of rock and snow from which their bodies are never recovered.


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