In both The Scarlet Letter and in The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne creates characters who are conflicted on the inside but who rarely, if ever, demonstrate any external conflict. How is...

In both The Scarlet Letter and in The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne creates characters who are conflicted on the inside but who rarely, if ever, demonstrate any external conflict. How is this an example of Dark Romanticism?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both novels, Hawthorne develops Dark Romanticism in his suggestion that evil is a malevolent force from which there can be no easy escape. Transcendentalist thinkers like Emerson and Thoreau stressed the ideas of "self- reliance" and affirmed the power of the individual being to bring goodness into the world. This is in stark contrast to the ideas of Dark Romanticism where there was an open exploration of the presence of evil in the world. Supernatural forces, individual motivations, and the overall nature of human sin all converged within the individual who was forced to recognize their condition amongst this presence.

The House of the Seven Gables embodies the idea that sin and evil are difficult to escape.  On face value, the house is seen as an embodiment of human endeavor with its construction as a mansion.  Yet, it is haunted as evil exists within the house and its narrative. Colonel Pyncheon's building of the house commenced a condition of evil is one that is inescapable, and haunts his descendants.  In an example of how  “the wrong-doing of one generation lives into the successive ones," Hawthorne is able to evoke the tenets of Dark Romanticism.  He develops the supernatural forces in his novel as reminders of the evil that human beings do. Curses are linked with sin.  Human behavior triggers the supernatural haunting.  In stark contrast to what thinkers like Emerson and Thoreau advocated in the Romantic elements of Transcendentalism, Dark Romanticism evoked the darker aspects of human nature, an evil that reverberates throughout the generations.  Individuals are plagued by a condition in which sinful actions and transgressions are a part of their nature.  There is a collusion between individual action and the evil of the past, almost making sin an inescapable part of what it means to be human.  Someone has to forcibly take a stand against the death-instinct that human actions carry.  For Hawthorne, evil exists in the world, and human beings have to take an active role in acknowledging it. Holgrave and Phoebe represent an escape from such a condition because both recognize the malevolence in the past and actively seek to move from it.

The same type of Dark Romantic malevolence of the past that proves difficult from which to escape can be seen in The Scarlet Letter.  Hester recognizes that she will have to become the force that actively stands against malevolence in the world.  She is not bothered by the weakness of Dimmesdale or the evil of Chillingworth, while receiving the harsh treatment of Puritanical hypocrisy. She is unable to fully escape the clutches of such evil realities.  Yet, she actively pursues a life in which she represents a sense of honor and goodness, amidst a condition where sin and malevolence exists.  Evil is a formidable aspect of human characterization and human society.  Change can only happen when there is a active acknowledgement of it. As a Dark Romantic, Hawthorne recognizes that evil lingers and does exist in the world.  It is spawned by individuals who are not intrinsically good, but rather savagely dark.  The actions of these people in the present and the past constitute a world in which malevolence lives.  Hawthorne understood this with his own past, a lineage that contained a savage judge during the Salem Witch trials.  He might have understood that the sins of his own past are revisited in the present, himself representing an acknowledgement of Dark Romanticism in his life and art.

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