What is an analysis of the symbols used in the "Ambitious Guest"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Most of the details in Hawthorne's stories have symbolic significance, and "The Ambitious Guest" is no exception. Here are some of the symbols in Hawthorne's narrative:

  • the cottage - Symbolic of shelter and warmth and felicity, the young traveler feels warmed by the hospitality of the family that welcomes him.
  • the fire - Also a symbol of warmth, the fire ignites the spirit of the traveler, who shares his dreams and ambitions with the family. Thus, the fire represents ambition, as well.
  • the spirit of the "wayfarer" - His proclamations of his yearning desires evoke the hidden desires of the family members:

...by his natural felicity of manner, to have placed himself on a footing of kindness with the whole family, so that they talked as freely together as if he belonged to their mountain brood.

In his presence, they, then, speak of their secret ambitions that have long lain dormant.

  • the vast rock slide - Symbolic of the irony of fate in its sudden turn away from the cottage which kills everyone from the cozy dwelling, the rock slide represents fate and unexpectedness of death.  It also ironically becomes "the monument" for which the "ambitious guest" has yearned. 
  • the "monument" - Representative of the youth's desire for fame, it instead becomes an unknown marker for his burial.