The Dark Romanticism of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Categories: Nathaniel Hawthorne


The exploration of conflicts between good and evil, guilt, and sin was a hallmark of Dark Romanticism, a literary movement that emerged in the 19th century. Nathaniel Hawthorne, a prominent writer of this era, delved into the darker facets of the human psyche in his stories, earning recognition for his insightful narratives. This essay examines Hawthorne's approach to Dark Romanticism, analyzing specific works that exemplify his exploration of the human heart and mind.

Hawthorne's Literary Devices

Hawthorne employed various literary devices, crafting allegorical and parable stories that resonated with readers, inviting them to contemplate deeper meanings.

Three noteworthy stories—“Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter”—highlight Hawthorne's mastery of storytelling.

"Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment": An Allegorical Tale

In this allegorical story, Hawthorne skillfully weaves a narrative around characters and objects that symbolize abstract ideas and moral qualities. The characters, each representing immoral traits such as greed and wastefulness, are given a second chance through the Fountain of Youth.

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However, they squander this opportunity, underscoring Hawthorne's belief in the inherent imperfection of humanity.

Dr. Heidegger, in possession of a closet containing a skeleton symbolizing his hidden past, serves as a metaphor for the secrets individuals, even respected figures, keep concealed. Hawthorne's keen insight into the human condition is evident as he exposes the characters' immoral inclinations, emphasizing the universal struggle with imperfection.

"The Minister’s Black Veil": A Parable on Masks

This parable revolves around Mr. Hooper, a minister attempting to impart a moral lesson about the masks everyone wears.

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The clergy's inability to grasp the lesson and their penchant for gossip and speculation highlight Hawthorne's commentary on human nature. Mr. Hooper's selfless sacrifice for a greater purpose emphasizes the story's moral center.

Hawthorne deftly explores the theme of hidden truths and societal judgment. Mr. Hooper's fiancee leaves him due to the rumors surrounding his black veil, illustrating the human tendency to shun what is not understood. The parable delves into the sacrifices made for moral principles and the challenges of navigating societal expectations.

"Rappaccini’s Daughter": Symbolism and Tragic Heroism

In this story filled with symbolism, Hawthorne explores the theme of evil through characters like Rappaccini, whose scientific pursuits overshadow human compassion. The Garden of Eden symbolism, coupled with the tragic heroism of Rappaccini, delves into the inner turmoil of good versus evil. The ultimate sacrifice made by Beatrice adds a layer of complexity to the narrative.

Rappaccini's character, a tragic hero driven by scientific ambition, challenges conventional notions of morality. The symbolism of the Garden of Eden reinforces the unnatural and morally ambiguous nature of Rappaccini's experiments. Beatrice's sacrifice, questioning the nature of true love and selflessness, adds a poignant dimension to Hawthorne's exploration of human complexities.

Themes of Dark Romanticism

Common threads run through these stories, portraying Hawthorne's consistent themes of conflict between good and evil, the enduring effects of guilt and sin, and the flawed nature of humanity. Each narrative serves as a lens into the darker aspects of the human condition.

Hawthorne's depiction of the eternal struggle between good and evil reflects a nuanced understanding of human morality. The characters' moral shortcomings and their inability to learn from past mistakes underscore the recurring theme of human imperfection. Hawthorne, through his narratives, suggests that the complexities of guilt and sin are inherent to the human experience.

Hawthorne's Troubled Insight

It is crucial to contextualize Hawthorne's work within the backdrop of his troubled life. His acute awareness of the human conscience, coupled with a deep understanding of his surroundings and people, contributed to the dark and insightful nature evident in his literature. Rather than being weighed down, Hawthorne's troubled insight enhanced the richness of his Dark Romanticism.

Hawthorne's personal struggles and introspection seep into his narratives, offering readers a glimpse into the complexities of the human mind. His troubled insight, far from hindering his creativity, became the wellspring from which he drew profound explorations of human nature. The shadowed corridors of his own experiences cast a haunting yet captivating atmosphere over his literary endeavors.


Nathaniel Hawthorne's contributions to Dark Romanticism remain profound and enduring. Through allegorical tales and parables, he peeled back the layers of the human heart, revealing its darker inclinations. His exploration of conflicts, guilt, and sin resonates with readers, making Hawthorne a luminary in the realm of Dark Romantic literature.

Hawthorne's literary legacy extends beyond mere storytelling; it serves as a contemplative mirror reflecting the intricacies of the human condition. His ability to weave intricate narratives while maintaining a keen focus on universal themes ensures that his works continue to be relevant and thought-provoking in the exploration of the shadows that linger within us all.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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The Dark Romanticism of Nathaniel Hawthorne. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Dark Romanticism of Nathaniel Hawthorne essay
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