Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Sister Years revisted

In honor of New Year's Eve I read "The Sister Years" again. I am mulling over the paragraph about the opening of the railroad and considering Nathaniel Hawthorne's word choice. Old Year calls day trippers a transitory diurnal multitude. I guess she expects any lurking about will not understand her. She predicts - An immense accumulation of musty prejudices will be carried off by the free circulation of society. Many musty prejudices have been carried off over the years, but some run so deep the process of erosion continues. At the end of the paragraph Old Year posits, there will be a probable diminution of the moral influence wealth, and the sway of an aristocratic class. Again, I look back and see that we keep moving forward but never getting there. Still this push and pull between immigrant and native continues to play out here in New England in the 21st century.

Which brings me back to transitory diurnal multitude. I believe Nathaniel Hawthorne chose those words to clearly identify the speaker as one of the aristocratic class aiming to speak above the understanding of the ignorant masses. I am reminded of an elderly aunt who discouraged shopping at the local supermarket, in a loud stage whisper, "because the demographics have changed."

Transitory diurnal multitude - can you hear the disdain?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Young Goodman Brown

Young Goodman Brown

Perhaps the most read story Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, it is the story I've read most often. A favorite of American middle school teachers, "Young Goodman Brown" is used to demonstrate and define terms like short story, allegory, and symbolism.

What can I add to a topic covered so well by others?

I found an interesting article here by Michael McCabe. He reminds us Goodman Brown's comprehension that everyone shares a sinful nature was taught in his Puritan catechism and should not have required his being led astray by the devil.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Roger Malvin's Burial

Read Roger Malvin's Burial here.

Whenever I read this story, I can't help but think that the first year must have been the worst for Reuben. I imagine Reuben lived in fear that someone saved Roger who might yet return after months of recovering in somebody's cabin and Reuben would have to explain that someone he said he buried was still alive.

I can imagine Dorcas at the end, "Oh for heaven's sake, I could have forgiven you the unburied bones, but this is too much."

It's a story about guilt, expiation of guilt, blood sacrifice, echoes of Abraham and Isaac. I like that Hawthorne rejects the possibility of supernatural influence in this passage: Unable to penetrate to the secret place of his soul where his motives lay hidden, he believed that a supernatural voice had called him onward, and that a supernatural power had obstructed his retreat. I can believe we are all inclined to attribute to a supernatural cause those motives we do not dare examine and own.

Here we have another story with a marriage as the centerpiece. After all, if Reuben did not marry the girl the lie would not have figured so prominently in his life. We see how this secret sin poisons married life for Reuben, though apparently Dorcas learns to overlook his moods and love him despite his demeanor.

This is a pithy story I will read again soon. Is it a warning that we can become so obsessed with our past transgressions that we can not properly attend to the present? Does sin require a blood sacrifice to expiate it? I think Dorcas would disagree. I think she would cry out for confession and repentance.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

I love this story. It's not where you're from and thank God it's not who you know, here in America every man gets his own shot at making a name for himself.

I like that this story has so many period details - Ramillies wigs and such. I was intrigued to learn about the parchment three-penny. I could not find a photo of one online. Best I could find was a parchment 1 penny. According to Hawthorne the parchment three-penny was six-sided.

Nicotian was a new word for me. Apparently you could smoke in Boston bars back then.

I found an interesting interpretation by Bartlett C. Jones here. I also came across a fragment comparing Robin's entry to Boston to Ben Franklin's entry to Philadelphia as recorded in Franklin's Autobiography that bears consideration.