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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

3. Gothic Undercurrents

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Activities: Author Activities

Nathaniel Hawthorne - Author Questions

Back Back to Nathaniel Hawthorne Activities
  1. Comprehension: What happens to Goodman Brown in the forest? Why does Hawthorne leave it up to the reader to decide whether the entire experience of Brown is a dream or real? To what extent does it matter that we decide one way or another?

  2. Context: Read the land deed documenting Penn's purchase of land from Machaloha, a member of the Delaware tribe, included in the archival material. What assumptions underwrite this legal document? Why do you think Penn decided to codify his purchase of Native American land in this way? How does the deed compare to the wampum belt included in the archival materials?

  3. Context: What does "Young Goodman Brown" seem to be saying about the ethics of American Puritanism? Hawthorne struggled with his own ancestors' roles in prosecuting the 1692 Salem witchcraft trials; what does the ironic revelation of "evil" hidden behind a facade of "good" suggest about Hawthorne's judgment of the Puritan worldview?

  4. Context: Notice how the rational and objective pursuit of scientific truth blurs into the obsessive and personal pursuit of individual desire in "Rappaccini's Daughter" (this is true in different ways for all three of the male characters, Giovanni, Rappaccini, and Baglioni). Why might Hawthorne deliberately challenge the distinction between science and passion in this story?

  5. Context: What are we to make of Rappaccini's final justification to Beatrice of his perverse experiment: "'Wouldst thou, then, have preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil, and capable of none?'" Why does it matter that Beatrice is a woman? How would the story be different if Rappaccini had endowed a male child with the venomous powers of the poison plant? How can you relate this story to the nineteenth-century "cult of true womanhood" discussed in the Core Context "The Spirit Is Willing: The Occult and Women in the Nineteenth Century"?

  6. Exploration: The Scarlet Letter has connections to both "Young Goodman Brown" and "Rappaccini's Daughter." Like the former, The Scarlet Letter deals with the wrenching implications of Puritan conceptions of sin; like the latter, it concerns the torments of gender inequality. Consider the representation of the human body in each of these texts to develop a theory that links these two themes. What, according to Hawthorne, is the relationship between the female body and sin?

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