illustrated portrait of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In "The Hollow of the Three Hills," what is Hawthorne's purpose, and how does he shape the plot, tone, characterization, and setting to fulfill it? 

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's purpose is to show how wrong and unnatural it is for a woman to leave her family. He achieves this purpose by showing a woman in unnatural, evil circumstances grieving until she dies.

The woman who approaches the crone is beautiful but despondent. She's young, but her heart is heavy. Showing that her leaving has already filled her with regret and dissatisfaction is one way that Hawthorne shows the wrongness of her actions. She approaches the crone, who appears to be otherworldly and evil from her words and actions.

The setting is otherworldly, which shows the nature of the woman's sins. Hawthorne says that other people can't see where the two women meet. The crone says there's a limited amount of time that she can show the young woman those she left behind. It's an uncomfortable, unwelcoming setting, which could be a metaphor for the world the woman faces once she's left the warm embrace of her family. Instead, she dies after seeing the sadness of her loved ones.

The entire tone of the story is focused on the woman's despair and the unhappiness of those she left behind. It's stark and punishing. Hawthorne uses the tone to show that the woman's actions are wrong. Her parents and husband are grieving. Her child has died. Her actions are what caused everyone's misery. It's implied that things would be different and better if she hadn't left.

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Shrouded in the ambiguity attached to evil and its effects upon the human consciousness, "The Hollow of the Three Hills" acts as a precursor to many of Hawthorne's later narratives as this story examines the relationship of evil and sin. Symbolic of these two forces, the old "crone" and the woman, once beautiful but now facially marred, meet in the forest, always symbolic with Hawthorne for evil. Haunted by her selfish and sinful past, the woman asks the witch to summon the voices of her parents, husband,and child so that she can learn what has become of them.

First, she hears her old parents who bemoan the shame brought upon their own lives; secondly, she hears a man's voice speak hollowly of " woman's perfidy, of a wife who had broken her holiest vows, of a home and heart made desolate," but his words fall upon a clamorous group little interested in one man's sorrow. Finally, the old crone summons the third scene, that which is the most tragic; moreover, it is speaks of the woman's most grievous sin. It is a funeral procession that the woman hears,

...there were revilings and anathemas, whispered but distinct, from women and from men, breathed against the daughter who had wrung the aged hearts of her parents--the wife who had betrayed the trusting fondness of her husband--the mother who had sinned against natural affection, and left her child to die.

With the three denials of the woman, the religious significance of the plot and its tone of inevitability cannot be ignored, nor the fact that the woman does not raise her head as the old hag stirs the head upon her knee. Her judgment complete, the woman dies from the burden of her grievous sins. And, like Satan, who rejoices when he claims a soul, the "old crone" laughs, "Here has been a sweet hour's sport!"

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