Topics for Further Study
Much has been said by critics about the ways in which Hawthorne’s life is evidenced in his fiction. Research Hawthorne’s life and discuss which people and events in his life seem to surface in this novel. To what extent do you believe that writing this novel helped Hawthorne explore issues of sin and poverty? After writing this novel, do you think he felt better or worse about his ancestors and current social position?
Some reviewers have been critical of the ending of this novel. Is the pairing of Phoebe and Holgrave believable to you? Does it seem to be too much of a Hollywood ending that neatly cleanses the families of their sordid past? If you could write a new ending, what would you have happen?
Hawthorne states early on that one of the main themes in this novel is that the sins of the past are passed down through generations. Do you agree or disagree? Can you point to any examples in society today where something like crime seems to persist from generation to generation? Can you cite any examples to the contrary where perhaps people have overcome their pasts and made successful lives for themselves?
Hawthorne named this novel after the house in which most of the action takes place. Why do you think he did this? What does the house symbolize? Can you think of any other titles that he might have given the novel?
Watch the 1940 film version of the novel. How does the film differ from the book? If you directed the movie, are there sections of the book that you would emphasize or leave out? How would you decide what to include and what to exclude?
Research the witchcraft trials of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. Can you make a case that Colonel Pyncheon may have believed that Matthew Maule was actually a wizard? Or does it seem more likely that the Colonel supported Maule’s execution because he wanted to claim Maule’s land as his own?