As one critic writes of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Ambitious Guest,"
In his mind, the short story itself becomes the synecdoche of human fate.
With masterful irony, Hawthorne creates a fable in which a young man intrudes upon a family with his "high and abstracted ambition." However, the family is responsive to him and begin themselves to express their own personal feelings about their lives. In so doing, they become less in tune with the outer world where there are hints of Nature's disturbance and their ultimate fate. In fact, always there is a threat since the familly lives in what is called the Notch of the White Hills. There
- The wind is very strong throughout the year, and brutally cold in the winter.
- The family lives in a precarious location, for a mountain looms above them.
- The mountain is so steep that stones from it often roll down the sides of the mountain and wake them at night.
- The wind roars through the Notch and wails through the walls and rattles the door.
- When the children and others hear someone at the door, they stand
as if about to welcome some one who belonged to them, and whose fate was linked with theirs.
- The guest is relieved to come in, saying that the wind has blown so strongly all the way from Bartlett.
- Just as the guest pulls up a chair, there is the sound of a large stone falling from the mountain.
- As the young man talks with the family, he speaks of his ambitions.
Were I to vanish from the earth to-morrow, none would know so much of me as you: that a nameless youth came up at nightfall from the valley of the Saco,
- While the young man talks, he expands upon his wishes.
It is better to sit here by this fire," answered the girl, blushing, "and be comfortable and contented, though nobody thinks about us."
- The father, then states his wish to become a Squire; he tells his wife,
When I think of your death, Esther, I think of mine, too. But I was wishing we had a good farm in Bartlett, or Bethlehem, or Littleton, or some other township round the White Mountains; but not where they could tumble on our heads.
- The grandmother, too, speaks of her passing and the type of gravestone she preferes.
- The mother says, "They say it's a sign of something, when folks' minds go a wandering so.
- The boy wants the family to go outside to the Flume.
- Just then, the girl feels very lonesome.
- The narrator states,
There was a wail along the road, as if a funeral were passing.
- As the grandmother speaks, the family becomes so engrossed in listening that they do not hear the sounds outside until it is too late. Fearing a landslide, they rush out of the house,
Alas! they had quitted their security, and fled right into the pathway of destruction.
The family and the guest succumb to the fate of the mountain. There is an avalanche, and all the members of the family are lost.