Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 363
The Marble Faun is a novel written by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne. The book was published in 1860 and was Hawthorne's last major work before his untimely death four years later.
On the surface, the plot of The Marble Faun can be viewed simplistically: American painter, Miriam, moves to Italy to mingle with other expat artists, but experiences a life-changing event. However, the novel explores the dramatic changes of the human psyche in the face of a traumatic event. A particularly interesting character study is Donatello, Miriam's Italian lover and the man who murders a "stranger" from Miriam's past.
In any other novel, the author might have just designated Donatello as a minor character. However, Hawthorne made him the most compelling out of all the characters in The Marble Faun. In the beginning of the narrative, Donatello is a stereotypical vain, happy-go-lucky hunk that Miriam fancies. After the murder, Hawthorne explores Donatello's background—from his childhood's innocent years to his transformation as a thoughtful adult.
In this regard, the novel is similar to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. Hawthorne illustrates that all humans are complex through the character of Donatello. Hawthorne also inserts his own thoughts into the novel through the character of Kenyon, another American artist living within the expat community in Rome. He acts a guide to Donatello, but also expresses observations on the expat artist community.
Through Kenyon, Hawthorne opined that Americans who stay too long in a foreign country eventually become lost in an illusion of utopia. For instance, Hilda, a copyist from New England, becomes disillusioned with the artist community in Rome when she keeps Miriam and Donatello's murder a secret.
Like Donatello, Hilda goes through a transformation. The murder can be seen as the beginning of the tainting of paradise, like the moment Eve bit the apple from the forbidden tree of knowledge. Once their artist paradise in Rome was stained with blood, it was hard for the Americans to continue their illusion of a bohemian community.
In essence, Hawthorne seemed to have written the novel as a kind of warning to Americans who desire to move to another country or culture different from the ones they know.