What are the similarities and differences between Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some major similarities between Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne are the time period in which they lived and wrote. Both men were prominent writers of the mid-1800s. Both were born at the start of that century, though Hawthorne lived a bit longer than Poe. They were both part of the period of American Romanticism, which reached its height in the mid-nineteenth century. Hawthorne actually wrote a definition of "romantic/romanticism," in which he emphasized the role of the supernatural or not quite realistic. Both men certainly include nonrealistic and/or supernatural elements in their works. Both writers also produced works that could be considered Gothic: most of Poe's catalogue falls into this category, while Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and The House of the Seven Gables, among other works, are Gothic texts. Both writers also theorized about literature—Hawthorne in the aforementioned definition of the romantic and Poe in his ideas about the effects of the ideal short story.

As far as their differences, Poe aspired to be a great poet, though he is mostly known for his short stories. Hawthorne was mostly a novelist and short story writer. Hawthorne sets some of his major works in the colonial period, interested in Salem and the Puritans, as he had at least one prominent relative involved in the famous witch trials. Poe, on the other hand, usually sets his works in the contemporary period in which he's writing. Poe's narrators often are unreliable and descend into madness before our eyes; his works are interested in the psychological ramifications of horror and the reasons people commit horrific crimes. Hawthorne's works tend to be more traditional in their use of third person omniscient narrators.

While Poe and Hawthorne have a number of interesting and important differences, both authors have made key contributions to American literature, and we still read and enjoy their works today.

perfectsilence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe are two of the most important writers of the developing United States.  Hawthorne was born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts and Poe was born in 1809, just five years later, in Boston.  Along with the geographic proximity that they shared in their early lives (the orphaned Poe was taken south by 1811, but returned for a brief time to live and publish his early works in Boston as a young adult), they share a number of traits and characteristics in their writing.  As suggested by the other answer, both authors are regarded as "Dark Romantics."  The exploration of the inner workings of the human mind, from greed to guilt, flows through all of their fiction.  Hawthorne was clearly dealing with residual guilt from his own family history.  His great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, was a chief magistrate during the Salem Witch Trials.  Nathaniel Hawthorne spent his entire career trying to work through his perceived guilt for the injustices committed by his ancestor.  From "Young Goodman Brown" to The House of the Seven Gables, overarching thematic concerns are guilt, injustice, atonement, and, at times, retribution.  In this way, Hawthorne and Poe overlap.  Poe also focuses a great deal on the workings of the human mind as it pertains to guilt and injustice.  However, unlike Hawthorne, Poe's protagonists are often the arbiters of their own demise.  From "The Tell-tale Heart" to "The Masque of the Red Death," Poe's characters often suffer from some inner disconnect from their world and their actions, and this disconnect results in their downfall.  Whereas Hawthorne's protagonists are often victims of the society around them and often manage to overcome their conditions, Poe's protagonists are often swallowed up by their own vices.  In short, Hawthorne's antagonists, such as Chillingworth, Colonel Pyncheon, and Jaffrey Pyncheon, occupy similar spaces as Poe's protagonists.

scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Similarities:

1. Both authors are part of the Dark Romantics from American Literature.  As such, they viewed human nature as inherently evil and created characters who either give in to the "darkness" of their souls (such as Chillingworth and Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter) or commit evil deeds simply because their hearts are "wicked" (the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart," or Rappaccini in Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter").

2. Both authors rely on complex syntax and detailed imagery.  Hawthorne's short stories and novels contain numerous descriptive passages filled with lengthy and varied sentence structure.  Poe's short stories not only demonstrate unusual and complicated syntax, but they also exemplify the formal, elaborate diction of Romanticism.

Differences:

1. Even though Hawthorne did write some tales with Gothic elements, he does not rely on the Gothic style that Poe is a master of.

2. Poe created the modern detective story (a story in which an intelligent civilian outsmarts the police and solves a case through imagination and logic). Hawthorne stays close to his Romantic roots and chooses to set some of his stories and novels in the earlier days of America.