What are the similarities between what Hawthorne and Emerson's discuss in their writings?Mostly regarding Emerson's "Nature" and "Self-Relaince" and Hawthorne's collection of short stories,...

What are the similarities between what Hawthorne and Emerson's discuss in their writings?

Mostly regarding Emerson's "Nature" and "Self-Relaince" and Hawthorne's collection of short stories, primarily "The Birth-Mark," "Rappicinni's Daughter" and "Young Goodman Brown"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Denis Diderto, a philosopher of the Enlightenment, once declared, "The truest history is full of falsehoods, but the romance is full of truths."  Certainly, the Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Dark Romanticist Nathaniel Hawthorne were true in depicting the human predicament.

Here are some ways in which Hawthorne and Emerson are similar in this depiction of the human existence:

Tension between emotion and intellect

In his essay "Nature," Emerson perceives Nature as the expression of his own heart, yet in his analytical reasoning, he tends to deny that Nature has a soul.  Thus, he has an ambivalence regarding the essence of Nature.  Likewise, Hawthorne expresses such an ambivalence in his stories, "Young Goodman Brown" and "Rappacini's Daughter."  Is the forest primeval of Goodman Brown's experience the cause of his disillusionment with Puritanism, or is the cause within himself?  Is the shrub of purple blossoms imbued with  seductive powers, or has Rappicini merely exploited it? 

Society is in conspiracy against the individual

In his essay "Self-Reliance," Emerson writes,

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members....[it] is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater.

Thus, for Emerson, the importance of the individual is oppressed by society.  Similarly, Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter demonstrates the oppression of the Puritan community. In "Young Goodman Brown," Brown experiences conflicts with his own individual conclusions and finds his minister hypocritical in speaking of "the sacred truths of our religion."

The self is the ultimate judge

Perhaps thematic of "The Minister's Black Veil," is not only the concept of secret sin, but the idea that each person must examine himself and judge through this examination rather than by the precepts of his/herreligion.  Giovanni of "Rappacini's Daughter" fails because he allows himself to be influenced by outside forces.  Likewise, Emerson felt that the Over-Soul's divinity is inherent in the individual, and the person must be faithful to this transcendental spirit by preventing "harmful interposition of one's own artificial will."

Science often corrupts nature

The poet William Wordsworth wrote of "humankind's meddling intellect," and Hawthorne's "Rappacini's Daughter" certainly exemplfies this statement.  By instilling poisonous capabilities in his daughter Beatrice, Dr. Rappacini prevents her from the most intrinsic need of humans, interpersonal relationships. Thus, his defiant scientific and intellectual ambitions cause him to violate the human heart.

As a Transcendentalist, Emerson held with the power of intuition over that of science.  For, in Nature is the "perpetual presence of the sublime," not in science. In an analysis of Emerson, it is written,

The Over-Soul is the embodiment of wisdom, virtue, power, and beauty, among which virtue is supreme.

Contemporaries, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson were associated with one another personally, but especially in their shared thoughts on the human experience in which the individual conflicts with society. Above all, both Emerson and Hawthorne felt that Americans should "read the book of nature."