Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This moral fable is made palatable by Hawthorne’s command. If Dr. Heidegger were a paragon of virtue, the lesson might be less beguiling, but his skill as a doctor is insufficient to prevent the spirits of his deceased patients from staring at him whenever he directs his gaze at the fabulous mirror. The mirror suggests the power of illusion, a motif of the tale, as does the untitled book of magic. Hawthorne (or the narrator) has sport by suggesting that some of the doctor’s reputation as an eccentric is attributable to the writer’s “own veracious self” in the role of “fiction monger.”

Hawthorne makes use of the trappings of gothic romance (the cobwebs, dust, bookcases, skeleton in the closet, and fabled mirror) with skill. One startling event, characteristic of the genre, still not outmoded in the author’s time, is that when the chambermaid lifts the book of magic in her dusting, the skeleton rattles in the closet and several faces (presumably of the doctor’s deceased patients) peep out from the mirror, while the bronze bust of Hippocrates frowns, uttering the command to forbear.

A whimsical humor can be felt in the story. For example, the narrator hints that the doctor and guests “were sometimes thought to be a little beside themselves—as is not infrequently the case with old people when worried either by present troubles or woeful recollections.” Here is displayed a mock gravity. Humorous also is Dr. Heidegger’s...

(The entire section is 420 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bell, Millicent, ed. Hawthorne and the Real: Bicentennial Essays. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Hester Prynne. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.

Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Davis, Clark. Hawthorne’s Shyness: Ethics, Politics, and the Question of Engagement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Mellow, James R. Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.

Miller, Edward Havilland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.

Millington, Richard H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Moore, Margaret B. The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998.

Muirhead, Kimberly Free. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”: A Critical Resource Guide and Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Literary Criticism, 1950-2000. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.

Newman, Lea Bertani Vozar. A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.

Pennell, Melissa McFarland. Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Scharnhorst, Gary. The Critical Response to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Stoehr, Taylor. Hawthorne’s Mad Scientists. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978.

Thompson, G. R. The Art of Authorial Presence: Hawthorne’s Provincial Tales. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993.

Von Frank, Albert J., ed. Critical Essays on Hawthorne’s Short Stories. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.