What are the desires and wishes of the father and grandmother in "The Ambitious Guest"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With quaint simplicity Hawthorne molds his characters to his themes, and in "The Ambitious Guest" this craft of Hawthorne is evinced in the characterization of the family members who welcome the young "wayfarer."

  • the father - The "landlord" of the cottage, having listened to the words of ardor from the youth, muses about his own life, 

"I suppose...there is something natural in what the young man says, and if my mind had been turned that way, I might have felt just the same. It is strange...how his talk has set my head running on things that are pretty certain never to come to pass."

Old dreams of his, thus, surface as he describes how he has wished that he owned a prosperous farm in a township near the White Mountains, but "not where they could tumble on our heads." He would have liked to have become a Squire, a man of note who was "sent to General Court for a term or two" because an honest citizen can accomplish in politics as much as a lawyer. When he would die, the father would like his family to mourn him and place a gravestone with just his name and a Bible verse or hymn on it as a notice to people that he has been an honest man who "died a Christian."

  • the grandmother - She, too, contemplates her death since she is only "a step or two" from her grave.  With "an air of mystery" about her, she draws the attention of the family and tells them that she has set aside her "grave-clothes." She tells her family that this night she is haunted by an old superstition that if these clothes are not put on correctly with no ruff that is not smooth, or cap that is not set right upon the head, her corpse will be disturbed. It will have to "put up its cold hands" under the earth and rearrange all that is imperfect.  Therefore, she desires that one of the family hold a mirror over her face after she is dressed in her burial clothers. "Who knows but I may take a glimpse at myself and see whether all's right?"

This talk of death on the part of both the father and the grandmother certainly molds these characters to Hawthorne's theme of the unexpectedness of death as they ironically speak of their demise without knowing that it will soon come.