What is the theme of the story "The Ambitious Guest"?

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Though the stark New England setting is typical of Hawthorne's stories, the overall theme of "The Ambitious Guest" is somewhat unusual for him, focusing as it does on man's impotence in the face of the randomness of nature's power. Both the host family and the guest become caught up in their dreams for the future and are then killed due to unpredictable forces present in the outside world. They have no way of knowing, of course, that had they not rushed out from the safety of their dwelling, the landslide would not have buried them.

The outcome seems to suggest that it is man's ambition, his will to stay alive, that ends up destroying him. Presumably, the characters would have made a better choice in staying put in the house, thus accepting the possibility of death, instead of trying to escape from it. Few of Hawthorne's other works imply that this fatalistic thinking makes any sense. In fact, his usual theme is the opposite: that man does make moral choices and does have it within his power to decide his future, though Hawthorne often expresses the idea negatively, showing that man is usually destroyed by the immoral paths he decides to take. This is the case in, for example, "The Birthmark," in which Aylmer ends up killing his wife because of his obsession with her imperfections, and in "Rappaccini's Daughter," in which Rappaccini himself and Giovanni bring about the tragedy through both the misapplication of science and their own ruthless moral judgments.

If there is a link between "The Ambitious Guest" and these other works, it is the pessimistic view of human nature and the surrounding world that Hawthorne, like others of his period, expresses. Man is given a choice on how to act, but he makes the wrong choice more often than not. He is usually defeated by his own actions, either through the help of random effects of nature, as in "The Ambitious Guest," or through his inner weaknesses, his fears, and his tendency to judge others harshly and wrongly.

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One of the themes in this story is ambition, in conjunction with how it shapes our destiny.  This story is an expression of how choices shape our lives and whether an individual has any control over his ultimate destiny. 

The story illustrates, however, by embracing an ambitious approach, you ultimately take yourself out of the safe, secure zone and are exposed to danger.  Clearly, when the family decides to leave the relative safety of the cottage to flee the sounds of the tumbling mountain, they are acting out of character.  Were they influenced by the talk of the ambitious guest?  Or would they have chosen to leave if he had never shown up?

What I find interesting about this story, when I read it, I felt like the family is running from the cottage not so much from the storm, but from the lives they have lived within its walls.  And this, in my opinion is because of the ambitious guest and his talk of dreams with great excitement.

"As they are caught up in his enthusiasm, several family members express very personal feelings about their lives. The father would like a better property and a better title (Squire)—in short, a station in life that would command the respect of his community. One of the younger children, excited by all this discussion of life's possibilities."  

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