Nathaniel Hawthorns use of symbolism in The Hollow of Three Hills Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 3 June 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorns use of symbolism in The Hollow of Three Hills

Nathaniel Hawthorne turns the perhaps often ignored topic of adultery into a compelling story that keeps the reader enthralled by using various literary techniques. He focuses on using colour and sound as a way to activate the audience’s imagination and create a somewhat magical picture that only the mind could produce. He describes certain things and places in a precise manner, using symbolism that can foreshadow the themes of the story. In the introductory paragraph, he describes the Hollow as being “…almost mathematically circular,” this allows the reader to deduce that an aura of the supernatural can be seen in the story. Hawthorne uses colour not only to create an image in the readers mind about what they are reading, but also to create a mood and tone to the story. For instance, he describes the hollow as a place full of dark greens and browns, setting a rather dark and gloomy mood.

He describes the scene at the bottom of the hollow, “One of these masses of decaying wood, formerly a majestic Oak, rested close beside a pool of green and sluggish water at the bottom of the basin.” The greens and browns described in this sentence, along with the description of the rotting wood and stagnant water creates a picture of mould, death and decay, an overall miserable colour scheme, creating a miserable mood. This miserable mood is then expanded on when it is mentioned that the old woman has grey hair, a rather drab colour. The first vision is also set in darkness with the only colour being mentioned being the grey ashes and orange embers, however, these oranges seem to create a feeling of fright rather than warmth. The second vision also brings on a notion of fear and resentment, the grey colour of the chains lingers on the readers mind. The third vision seems to be the darkest of all, the theme of a funeral immediately focusing the readers mind to the colour black.

The darkness throughout the story seems to flow into this third vision, encompassing the readers mind, creating a black space for the reader to focus solely on the sounds being created in the story, yet another technique used to grab the emotions of the reader. Hawthorne carries the feelings of the adulteress; sorrow, grief, despair and suffering throughout the story by using various sound devices and excessive descriptive techniques. A feeling of fear is brought into the readers mind as they imagine the intimidating voice of the aged crone as the story is introduced. The sound of a prayer being uttered under her breath and the voices of the vision begin to take over the readers mind as well, and one is brought inside the head of the woman. One hears the crackling of dying embers and the voices of the woman’s parents, as well as the old crone’s prayers, almost as if there is a merging of two dimensions. We then break away and are brought back to the deathly calm of the Hollow.

As one reads on, the mind is forced to enter the second dimension again. Here Hawthorne uses strong onomatopoeic words to elaborate on the intensity of the sounds being created. “Shrieks pierce through the obscurity of sound”. Through this sentence, Hawthorne is able to derive a bloodcurdlingly pitched scream inside one’s mind. The voice of insanity is encroaching upon her. Calm is one again brought on by the sound of singing, often associated with calm due to the fact that an infant is calmed by lullaby. The voice of her husband becomes the dominant voice, indicating his feelings of absolute betrayal.

The third vision contains perhaps the least noise, but in turn, speaks the loudest. The funeral bells tolls the sound of death, and the tread of the coffin bearers create an ominous miser, however it is the deathly sound of silence that follows, that echoes loudest in the readers mind. Nathaniel Hawthorn also uses symbols throughout the story to accentuate the miserable tone, and the severity of the adulteress’s crimes. He uses three hills, and three visions to show reference to the Holy Trinity, which was sinned against when the woman committed adultery.

A funeral sermon was given by a priest, extending the Christian connotations. A large religious role is also given to the use of the power of the super natural, and black magic. The ‘‘almost mathematically circular’’ hollow bears reference to the use of the circle in witchcraft. The woman also places her head upon the crone’s knees, a power that was not god, an evil deed that would have sold her soul to Satan. They stood around “… a mantling pool, disturbing its putrid waters in the performance of an impious baptismal rite.” This sentence creates an uneasy feeling that they were standing in the areas of hell, or belonging to the devil.

The use of the sound and colour in the story create a vivid layout and deeply emotionally stirring images in one’s mind that remain in the sub conscious for further thought, this impact could not have been achieved without such extensive use of these devices. The symbolism added understanding to this emotionally stirring story, and created an undertone of resentment for the adulteress, as one was able to realise the crimes that she had committed in relation to religion. Overall, the use of black magic, and the miserable light, as well as the impeding sound of death in the story, allowed Hawthorn to create a work of literature that excellently portrays the critical consequences of this woman’s tragic mistake and her deep feeling of regret are echoed in the sound of her silence at the end of the story.

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