2024 Undergraduate Research Showcase

Inheritance, Property Reform, and the Language of Original Sin in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables

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Student Presentation

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Dr. Tom Hillard


Throughout the body of scholarship on canonical nineteenth century American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, a recurring topic of interest is his relationship to radical reform projects of the Jacksonian Era (roughly 1828-1854), as well as his political views more generally. While Hawthorne’s personal connection to the utopian socialist commune Brook Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts has been thoroughly documented by biographers, the level of ambivalence regarding such socialist politics in his fiction remains a more open question which is continually debated by scholars. My research draws a connection between Hawthorne’s second romance, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), and the antebellum Working Men’s Movement, specifically the radical proposals for property redistribution of New York politician Thomas Skidmore. My analysis of Seven Gables alongside Skidmore’s treatise The Rights of Man to Property! (1829), reveals that, despite the novel’s conservative conclusion, Hawthorne reproduces the radical ideology of the property reform movement in a way that indicates not only a strong critique of emerging capitalist inequality in the American economy, but also reveals Hawthorne’s serious consideration of antebellum reformist goals and methods within his fiction.

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