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Cracking the Code of Hawthorne’s Allegories

According to Harmon and Holman’s A Handbook to Literature, allegory is “a form of extended metaphor in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative are equated with meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. . . . Allegory attempts to evoke a dual interest, one in the events, characters, and setting presented, and the other in the ideas they are intended to convey or the significance they bear” (12).  Allegories may be political, social, moral, satiric, or personal in nature, or a combination of these.

 Go to a web slide show on symbolism and allegory.

“M. de l’Aubépine” has already warned us of his penchant for allegory, so consider the following for each story:

1. What universal symbols does Hawthorne use, and in what way does he transform or subvert them?  Examples might include the following:

2.        In what ways does reading any one of these three stories shed light on Hawthorne’s method in the others?

“Rappaccini’s Daughter”

  1. In what ways does Hawthorne use such symbolic devices as the shattered fountain and the garden?
  2. Why is the Renaissance setting important?

“The Celestial Railroad”

  1. This story is an allegory about an allegory.  Judging from the footnotes, in what ways does Hawthorne rewrite and transform Bunyan’s classic?
  2. What kind of allegory is this, and what kind of devices (mentioned above) does it use? 
  3. What are the subjects of Hawthorne’s satire here, and what real moral points does he attempt to make?
  4. Given what you’ve read, how would you characterize his views of transcendentalism? Progress? Mechanization or the machine age? Contemporary society?
  5. What allegorical or symbolic figures does the narrator meet?

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux”

  1. What kind of allegory is this story?  Why is the setting important?
  2. Who is Robin supposed to represent?  Why does he “have the name of being a shrewd youth”?
  3. What allegorical or symbolic figures does he meet?  Why do they respond to him so strangely? 
  4. What is happening on the night of the story?  Why is the man from the inn covered with red and black paint?
  5. Why does Robin join in the laughter?
D. Campbell