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In "The Ambitious Guest," the stranger divulges his hopes and dreams. Up until this point, he has lived a life of honesty but of no great significance. He wants his life to be uncommon. He is determined to be remembered for something great. As Hawthorne puts it, "He could have borne to live an undistinguished life, but not to be forgotten in the grave."
At first, the family members think his ambition is odd, even silly. The young girl counters his ambition, saying it is better to sit by the fire "and be comfortable and contented, though nobody knows us." However, the father then wishes for more than he has. The son follows suit. Even the grandmother gets caught up in this ambitious talk.
There is foreshadowing throughout the story. The first significant instance is the with the young girl. As the ambitious sentiments continue, she gets a premonition of loneliness (despite being surrounded by her loving family and the audacious stranger).
But it happened, that a light cloud passed over the daughter's spirit; she looked gravely into the fire, and drew a breath that was almost a sigh.
Two key signifiers in this description are "grave" and "light cloud." The latter is paradoxical, symbolizing the shift from comfortable family atmosphere to something more foreboding. More paradoxical descriptions of the girl's facial expressions follow: "happy sadness" and "lightsome shadows."
Another foreshadowing moment is when the grandmother expresses her own ambition. She wishes that her grave clothes be just right. She recalls a superstition that if some of her garments are not presented properly, the corpse will try to fix them. In a sense, this is similar to the stranger's desire for a monument. She wants to be remembered properly. The fact that she speaks of her own death is an obvious instance of foreshadowing.
The most obvious instance of foreshadowing immediately follows the grandmother's superstition. The stranger concludes that "we dream of graves and monuments." Recall that these people are buried alive in rock. The stranger then says:
I wonder how mariners feel, when the ship is sinking, and they, unknown and undistinguished, are to be buried together in the ocean--that wide and nameless sepulchre!
The first great irony is that the family leaves what they had. They leave their place of security. The house remains intact while everything around it is destroyed. This alludes to their ambitions and wanting more than the quiet comfort of their home. They go outside, beyond their home, and this is what leads to their deaths. They had all they needed and now they have nothing.
And in the end, the family got what the stranger desired; a monument. This is the final irony. They will be remembered, not for their lives, but for their deaths.
The story had been told far and wide, and will forever be a legend of these mountains. Poets have sung their fate.
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