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James S. Mullican DETERMINISM, FATALISM, AND FREE WILL IN HAWTHORNE A recurrent theme in Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing is the relationship between fatalism and free will. His tales, romances, and notebooks contain explicit and implied references to man's freedom of choice and his consequent responsibility for his acts, as well as to "fatalities" that impel men to various courses of action. Much of the ambiguity in Hawthorne's fiction rests on this conflict between the notions of human freedom and responsibility on one hand and fatalism on the other. Although there is no question that this theme was important for Hawthorne, there is much disagreement concerning what Hawthorne himself believed. Critics have taken virtually every position on the spectrum between the poles of complete freedom and complete fatalism. That this disagreement exists should not be surprising. Hawthorne was an artist, not a philosopher or theologian; an important element of his technique, perhaps essential to his vision of life, was his ambiguity. His dual vision of the world, of matter and spirit, of evil and good, and his emphasis now of one, now of the other, engender disagreement concerning his view of life. His alternate fascination with and apparent rejection of Puritanism have led some to believe he was a predestinarían, others to hold that he was a "libertarian," and at least one critic to write that Hawthorne believed in a "modified predestination." Turner argued that Hawthorne's attitude toward reform led him to fatalistic thinking. Since reform movements touched only the surface manifestations of vice, such movements were useless, in Hawthorne's view. The logical conclusion of such a position, reasoned Turner, was fatalism. "Hence reform which would stir only the superficial outcroppings and would leave untouched the real causes underneath would be futile at best. And since the true sources of evil, so Hawthorne thought, lie largely beyond the reach of human efforts, fatalism was the certain end of his thinking." Turner saw evidence for fatalism 91 92Philosophy and Literature in Hawthorne's fiction also: ". . . there is a clear suggestion that the decisions [by Hester, Dimmesdale, Rappaccini, Ethan Brand, and Hollingsworth] have been inevitable, that the agent responsible is fate rather than Hawthorne's character." This critic concluded that Hawthorne was convinced that "the universe, including man and man's soul, is governed by inexorable law." Some critics have linked Hawthorne's beliefs regarding free will and fatalism to his attitude toward Calvinism. Schneider wrote, ". . . Hawthorne translated into empirical truths the essential doctrines of Calvinism . . . . From the popular doctrine of reform, he returned to the Puritan doctrine of divine sovereignty." Schneider suggested that Hawthorne purified the doctrines of the Puritans and returned them to their original purpose, salvation of the soul. "He recovered what Puritans professed but seldom practiced—the spirit of piety, humility, and tragedy in the face of the inscrutable ways of God." Cowley wrote that Hawthorne "believed in predestination, as the Calvinists did." Mills was of the opinion that Hawthorne was the most sympathetic to the Puritans of the writers of his day, but that Calvinist dogma was moderated and softened in Hawthorne: "He did not accept completely the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, nor did he emphasize the supreme sovereignty of God which was the driving force of Calvinism." Other critics have granted some measure of freedom to Hawthorne's characters. Arvin wrote, ". . . freedom of choice exists, but on so narrow a basis that, once exercised in the wrong direction, it is forever resigned." Fairbanks held that Hawthorne reserved to man the initial moral choice which set up the chain of necessity, and from that notion Fairbanks drew the conclusion that, "Though often called a fatalist, Hawthorne believed in free will." Schwartz, in an unpublished doctoral dissertation, argued from Hawthorne's life and from his writings that he rejected fatalism in favor of free will. Wagenknecht noted that Hawthorne refused "to accept foreordination and total depravity." Still other critics have emphasized a paradoxical element in Hawthorne 's writing, his acceptance of both horns of the dilemma. Waggoner wrote: "He saw man as immersed in a mystery in which responsibility is at odds with fate. His own natural tendency was to emphasize causation at the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 91-106
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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