Monday, February 08, 2010

Reader's Diary #576- Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Ambitious Guest

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Ambitious Guest." The story opens with a quaint little scene of a family sitting around a fire. The mother and father's faces reflected gladness, the children laughed, the eldest daughter was the image of Happiness, and the grandmother, the image of Happiness grown old. Ahhh. Let's all get cozy in the cottage, shall we? Not so fast. This cottage is in a cold spot and a dangerous one; for a mountain towered above their heads, so steep, that the stones would often rumble down its sides and startle them at midnight.

Foreshadowing right from the get go is a risky business. I mean, readers haven't had much of an emotional attachment as of yet, so why should we care when they inevitably meet their demise? Because we're human and caring for our fellow human beings is what we do.

Wrong. I think what Hawthorne has done is exposed our sadistic side. What an idyllic setting Hawthorne has created. Yet it's the promise of its destruction that keeps us reading. Perhaps this is why Hawthorne doesn't personalize the characters too deeply, we might up caring too much. Keeping them 2 dimensional surely makes our sinister thoughts more palatable.

Is Hawthorne pointing his finger at us for this attitude? I should hope not. I think Hawthorne himself shows even less restraint with the rest of the story. If killing off the happy family is our focus, Hawthorne isn't content to leave it at that. With the introduction of a traveling stranger who hopes to make a name for himself before he dies, Hawthorne ups the ante. Thinking of Hawthorne's cruel treatment of these characters, I felt better about my own.

Many readers will see this tale as a story about the folly of worldly ambition, but I found the set up, and Hawthorne's omnipresence, to be much more interesting. We often get to see writer as creator but it's far less common to see writer as destroyer, at least this unabashed.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)

7 comments:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Who hasn't wanted to kill off their family on occasion? I think Hawthorne was just projecting.

Okay, not really, I haven't even read the story yet. brb

carolsnotebook said...

Sounds like an interesting story. The only thing I've read by Hawthorne was The House of Seven Gables and it was so long ago that I don't remember anything about it.

I read a sci-fi story this week. I love this event, it's definitely encouraging me to read short stories, something I don't usually do.

http://carolsnotebook.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/the-millennium-party-by-walter-jon-williams/

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

I think Mr. Hawthorne had a few problems, if you know what I mean. I read a nice old American Western written by Elmore Leonard. You can find it HERE.

JoAnn said...

I've never been a big fan of Hawthorne, but I'm actually tempted to read this - "writer as destroyer" and all!
I read "Roses, Rhododendron" - Margot's story from last week.
http://lakesidemusing.blogspot.com/2010/02/short-story-monday-roses-rhododendron.html

April said...

Sounds awfully grim. My entry is a Canadian short story.

Teddy Rose said...

I read and enjoyed The Scarlet Letter. I also read The House of Seven Gables, which I thought was fair. However, I was in high school when I read them so I don't know what I would think of them today.

Thanks for the link to "The Ambitious Guest", I'll have to check it out.

I read another Boyle: http://teddyrose.blogspot.com/2010/02/nighttime-in-pool-by-t-c-boyle_07.html

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Not my own family...

Carolsnotebook: You can never get enough literature about gables.

Margot: I don't know a whole lot about the man, really. When I picked this story, I was surprised to find I'd never read anything by him before.

JoAnn: I think I may have made it sound more graphically violent than it is. What I mean to say is that the characters, especially the guest, seemed doomed from the onset.

April: Thanks! And here's the link should anyone wish to read your post.

Teddy Rose: I remember seeing, and despising, the movie. Then again, that probably had more to do with Demi Moore.