Hawthorne's Narrative Strategies
A study of a literary master’s manipulation of readers through use of ingenious narrative devices
For more than 150 years readers have interpreted Nathaniel Hawthorne's fiction in a dazzling variety of ways. Instead of arguing in favor of or against what these readers conceive the fiction to mean, this examination of Hawthorne's narrative strategies demonstrates how he leads readers to reason as they do.
Throughout his career Hawthorne manipulated and experimented with all the elements of narrative discourse, creating texts that continue to cry out for, yet defy, interpretation. In The Marble Faun. just as in his earliest tales and sketches, Hawthorne varies pronouns and verb tenses, often within the same paragraph. In all his works he affirms the factuality of invented incidents in one sentence, then undermines the affirmation in the next. His narrators often confess themselves uncertain about their own narratives. In some of his fictions elements of romantic ideology are proposed as alternatively irresistible and foolish. In others, domesticity is represented both as the only avenue to true happiness and as a wishful illusion. Thus, as this study reveals, in Hawthorne's works history proves to be no more reliable than some obvious Gothic convention.
Close readers of Hawthorne's narratives feel the compulsion to interpret, although they can do so only by ignoring considerable contradictions.
This ploy, however, is Hawthorne's narrative strategy that destabilizes the reader by offering interpretive choices that can be accepted only by rejecting other equally plausible choices.