My son is named Micah Nathaniel Rose. Micah, after the prophet. Nathaniel, after the author. Though I admit, we simply wished for a literary middle name and until today, I had never read a word penned by Hawthorne.
Several of his retellings of Greek myth can be found in a volume of children’s classics I purchased for Micah at a used bookseller. I couldn’t help but pickup biblical overtones of the stories as we read them. It turns out that Hawthorne endeavored to preserve conservative values in the face of modern philosophy. As a student of the Puritans, he sought to highlight the effect of sin.
By reminding Americans of the power and influence of original sin, Hawthorne maintained that real reform must be first and foremost moral reform, and such reform is not possible until one had remembered original sin. This position placed Hawthorne in direct disagreement with the increasingly influential Transcendentalists, whose optimism about human nature had erased sin as a check to man’s appetites and behavior.
Furthermore, it seems that Hawthorne’s political beliefs were rather Libertarian. On the issue of slavery, and hoping for a moral awakening in American, and holding to the believe that federal legislation could not effectively deal with slavery, he said:
being contrary to the economical and moral convictions of the future, slavery ultimately would fade away without governmental interference.
In another source it is said that
he believed in American federal union as a future-oriented schema which promised not only enhanced individual liberty but democratic community as well.
Now these are cursory glances into Nathaniel Hawthorne’s life and philosophies, but it would seem at least on some levels that we chose quite a perfect namesake.
Returning to our earlier reading, among the titles was Paradise of Children, a reworking of the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box. Hawthorne transforms the story into a more accessible read and tweaks the details into the category of biblical allegory. Pandora, drawn to the box as Eve to the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Lifting the lid, Epimetheus stands by like Adam without intervention and later even partaking in the deed. Their act unleashes “troubles” of many kinds upon the world.
Then instead of leaving the story as the Greeks did – the lid not being opened again and thus representing “hope” for mankind, the sort of humanistic hope in the inner good of man – Hawthorne makes masterful change. “Hope” comes out of the box as a being, a spirit in which they must cling to with faith. It may not come in their generation, but they must believe in the hope of redemption. And wisely the narrator ends with the remarks that the acts of Pandora and Epimetheus unleashed many problems on the world, but in a way we are glad they did. Because without those troubles we may not have known Hope (read: Christ).