Liberty University Engl 102
No, he had not slept but had experienced hysterical hallucinations, the products of his own obsessive concern with sin and marital fidelity. B. The question demands an answer. 1. The narrator’s question rests on much more than the fact that he asks it. 2. The nature of the question is implied throughout a story which asks, “Is there a natural (as opposed to supernatural) explanation for what Brown underwent? ” 3. Such ambiguities of natural/supernatural conflicts are characteristic of Hawthorne: ) “The Minister’s Black Veil” b) The Scarlet Letter (e. g. , the flaming “A” in the sky and the scarlet “A” on Dimmesdale’s chest) I. Technical ambiguities A. Point of view 1. The story is almost entirely told from a limited omniscient point of view (Brown’s perceptions), and it is so limited that it is impossible for a reader to discriminate fact from Brown’s imagination. 2. At several points in the story, the point of view expands to include an authorial voice, but this voice editorializes further ambiguity. ) Words and phrases 1) “as it were” 2) “as if” 3) “some affirm that” 4) “must have been an ocular deception” 5) “doubted whether he had heard ought but the murmur of the forest” 6) “whispering without a wind” b) The authorial voice also reports Brown’s perceptions with ambiguity. 1) “seem” 2) “appear” 3) “beheld” 4) “fancied” 2. The cumulative effect of this language is to cast doubt on the literal reality of Brown’s experience and to make any of the four explanations plausible.
II. Ambiguity of theme A. Hawthorne’s ambiguous narrative creates an issue much larger than the question which the narrator poses about Brown’s personal experience; that is, is the devil correct when he pronounces that evil is the inherent nature of all mankind? B. Has Brown’s journey, irrespective of its degree of literalness, revealed truth to him? C. Hawthorne provides no answer; such ambiguity is the theme. (For Hawthorne, all men are potentially evil and potentially good. )