Hawthorne's Psychological Themes

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.

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