1. Describe the stranger. Why does the author call him an "ambitious guest"? 2. Provide two examples of irony from this story. 3. How is foreshadowing used in this story?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Ambitious Guest" is a short story illustrative of the power of one day's time; it is also illustrative of Hawthorne's search for the truth of the human heart. 

1. A stranger happens upon the solitary cottage located in "bleakest spot of all New England." He has an air of melancholy about him, but his face soon brightens as he receives a warm greeting from an old woman who wipes a chair with her apron so that he can sit with them. He is "frank-hearted" and tells the family that their "cheerful faces" are inviting to him. Possessive of a "natural felicity of nature," he soon is talking freely with them together as though he has lived with them for some time. He has the ability to blend with others; he is of a proud spirit, and though "haughty and reserved" when with the rich, by the fireside of a poor man, he is eager to become his friend. With the family in this remote, bleak place, he feels "a kindred spirit, for some unknown reason."

"The secret of the young man's character was a high and abstracted ambition." He is ambitious because there is in him a "yearning desire" that has been transformed into hope; likewise, hope has become like certainty that on his pathway through life he will possess some of his desires, and attain that for which he has searched.

2. (a) Situational irony is a contradiction between the expectations of the characters and what actually happens.

  • The young traveler has the ambition to become distinguished in life and does not want to be "forgotten in the grave." Ironically, he will be forgotten in his grave of the avalanche that buries him.

(b) Verbal irony - The use of words to suggest the opposite of their meanings.

  • The landlord remarks to his wife after he has long been pondering what the guest has mentioned,

"...It is strange, wife, how his talk has set my head running on things that are pretty certain never to come to pass." (Later, these things do not happen.)

3. Foreshadowing is the subtle suggestion of things to come.

The young man possesses a certain magnetism to his personality that awakens the spirits of the guests, mesmerizing them. As he pulls his chair near the family,

something like a a heavy footstep was heard without rushing down the steep side of the mountain, as with long and rapid strides, and taking such a leap in passing the cottage as to strike the opposite precipice. The family held their breaths because they knew the sound, and their guest held his by instinct.

This sound is actually the beginning of the avalanche, but the landlord is not too concerned, saying that the family and the mountain "are old neighbors; besides, he adds, they have a "sure place of refuge" if the avalanche should be coming.  Later, the avalanche does come and they seek shelter but cannot get there.