from Frederick Crew's The Sins of the Fathers:
Main Idea: Hawthorne looked at Puritan history because he was
obsessed with oedipal tensions.
His plot: the return of the repressed
"Hawthorne's interest in history is only a special case of
his interest in fathers and sons, guilt and retribution, instinct and inhibition...only
by immersing himself in Puritan history could Hawthorne satisfy his interest
in buried impulses" (29-30).
H's life: his father's death at an early age, his lameness, his delicate
health, his marriage at 38 to a semi-invalid, his dislike of a maternal
uncle, on whom he depended financially.
H's characters: they are escapists, unwilling to pass from childhood
to maturity. Their sexual obsessions are the driving force of the
stories. The plots themselves enact the return of the repressed,
in that they 'allow perverse and partial expression of those wishes'.
The heroes of the stories take refuge in various pursuits, some patently
obvious, some not so obvious: strange forest meetings ('Young Goodman Brown'),
medical science ('The Birthmark'), botany (Rappaccini's daughter').
Crews shows persuasively how images and symbols are condensations and displacements
of the original libidinous impulse: activities guilty or innocent,
observing witches' sabbaths or tending flowers, become the occasion for
the return of the repressed in the form of a neurotic compromise.