Publication Date

Fall 11-29-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)



Committee Chair

Jonathan W. Murphy

Committee Member

Thomas R. Mitchell

Committee Member

Nathaniel R. Racine

Committee Member

Jack C. Byham


One of America’s greatest authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in a time of rapid scientific, material, and intellectual advancement. However, unlike many of his peers who went all-in on utopian reform movements, Hawthorne took a cautious and reserved approach to progress even though he supported the idea abstractly. Using six tales written acrossHawthorne’s career, this work will examine what each has to say about Hawthorne’s belief in human nature and why he takes such a skeptical position against movements aiming to fundamentally reshape people and society. The tales from the 1830s, “The Gentle Boy,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and “The Minister’s Black Veil,” establish Hawthorne’s thoughts about the inherent evil of humanity in addition to laying out his solution to human evil. Hawthrone believes the best and only truly successful means of dealing with human evil was the practice of rational piety, a combination of individual self-reflection and the basic tenets of Christian belief. For Hawthorne, this general framework of living recognized the universal inherent evil of humankind and allowed every individual to constantly combat their inclination towards evil while embracing the best aspects of Christian morality resulting in a more tolerant, compassionate, and pious society. In the 1840s Hawthorne switched the focus of his tales from the religious extremism of the seventeenth century to the more secular progressivism of the nineteenth century. The tales of “The Celestial Railroad,” “Earth’s Holocau st,” and “The Birthmark” all serve as critiques by Hawthorne of the ways progressives in his era attempted to improve humanity through spiritual, intellectual, and scientific alternatives to rational piety, respectively. Though each tale depicts a different type of reform, the attempts in every tale end in failure due to the neglect or misunderstanding of the evil inherent in human nature by those attempting to enact change. The result is Hawthorne guiding his readers back to rational piety as the ultimate solution for the fallenness of humanity.