Over his sixty years of life, Nathaniel Hawthorne produced a tremendous amount of quality short stories – all of which will be highlighted here in this article. Of all his short stories, ‘The Birth-Mark’ and ‘Young Goodman Brown’ appear to have greater prominence, but that doesn’t take away from several other short stories to his name – as they are all good reads in their own right. Below are the best short stories written by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Young Goodman Brown
Based on the narrative of the Mew England puritan society, ‘Young Goodman Brown’ is a short story published by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1835 – during the latter years of his isolation periods.
The book is set in 1600s Salem village and follows the gripping adventure of Goodman into the dark one faithful night and the strange revelations that ensue.
Goodman bids his wife – Faith – a good night and sets out to attend to a business just as the night encroaches. He meets a strange-looking old man – who identifies as ‘the devil’ – and who claims to know him and his family history.
As he trails the old man in the dark forest, he finds his town’s supposedly upright people – including an old and familiar godly woman and the governor’s wife – as they come to pay homage to the devil and attend an evil cult meeting where two new converts are billed to be initiated – he and his wife.
He returns to the village and is unsure whether he’s been dreaming all the while. He turns a bitter man and loses respect for people – tagging them as hypocrites. He grows old and dies sad and all alone.
The Minister’s Black Veil
A year after ‘Young Goodman Brown,’ Hawthorne published ‘The Minister’s Black Veil,’ which is a short story built on his signature dark romanticism and gothic fiction.
Just like the novel ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ this much more concise book is packed with allegories and symbolism and explores several daring themes, such as the themes of guilt and secret sins.
It follows the story of a preacher who comes to deliver his sermon with his face covered in a black veil – which he says represents his secret sin. He is persuaded by his wife and other parishioners to remove his veil but the preacher refuses, saying that as long as he lives, he will always have his veil on.
Many years pass, and he’s still unchanged – even after his wife threatens to leave him. He tells them that everyone has a veil covering their face even though they are not visible. The preacher grows old and dies with his veil still over his face.
Published in 1843, ‘The Birth-Mark’ follows an emotional tale of the search for perfection by an acclaimed scientist, Aylmer, for his near-perfect beautiful wife – whose only blemish is a birth-mark spot on her cheek.
After a strange dream about the birthmark, Aylmer dedicates his whole endeavor and life’s work to the search for a cure for his wife’s blemish. This leads him back to the lab, where he mixes a cure for it, but the undesirable happens.
As she drinks the antidote, she falls into a deep sleep, and when she wakes, the scar appears to have gone for good, but then she dies shortly after the birthmark had vanished.
The Artist of the Beautiful
This is another emotionally appealing short story by author Nathaniel Hawthorne, written and circulated in 1844. The book combines the themes of love and craft and narrates the story of Owen Warland, a talented goldsmith, who is looked down on by society, and worse, Hovenden, the father of Ann, the woman of his dream.
Warland is faced with the herculean task of winning the love battle between his fellow apprentices for Annie and finding favor in the eyes of his master and the people by inventing something of tremendous generational value.
The Celestial Railroad
‘The Celestial Railroad’ is another popular short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that is filled with biblical symbolism and allusions. The book was singly circulated in 1843 but then republished as part of the ‘Mosses from an Old Manse’ collection of 1846.
The story follows a critical parody of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan and follows the adventure of the narrator and a group of pilgrims as they travel through the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.
In ‘The Celestial Railroad,’ Hawthorne appears to be attempting to try and teach the experiences of a devout Christian journey through life in preparation for making heaven.
In the book, the narrator presents scenes filled with difficulties and troubles, hinting at how extremely hard a true Christian journey to heaven might be. In the end, the narrator wakes up realizing it’s only just been a dream.
Dr. Heidegger’s Experiments
Yet another fascinating short story created in the great mind of Nathaniel Hawthorne and written off his pen and published in 1837 – and later reprinted as a part of the authors ‘Twice-Told Tales’ collection.
The story appears to be a critical assessment of humanity’s susceptibility to repeated flaws – even after having a devastating previous event of a similar sort. The titular name, Dr. Heidegger, headlines the story, which documents his experiment using four aged friends who are given a chance to become young once again for a short period. The overarching theme of the book is based on the idiocy of men.
The Great Stone Face
Yet another of Hawthorne’s short stories is packed with helpful moral lessons, and perhaps the most pronounced of the lessons is on the need for the individual to imbibe humility, and how such virtue breeds nobility.
Published in 1850 by Ticknor, Reed & Fields, the book follows the myth of a legendary rock called ‘The Great Stone Face’ and Ernest’s quest to find the man who looks strikingly like ‘The Great Stone Face,’ and his journey of finding this mythical man leaves several moral lessons for readers to glean from.
The Ambitious Guest
Based on a true life account, Nathaniel Hawthorne published ‘The Ambitious Guest’ in the year 1835 – and later included in ‘Twice-Told Tales’ of 1841. The story follows a sad tale of a traveler who camps in a notch on a mountainside with a family as they make small conversations about their dreams and goals in life.
The notch mountainside proves risky this time of year, with the ensuing rockslide able to take a life, but the leader of the family convinces the traveler there is no cause for worry as those have been happening for years, and it’s hardly ever a threat to the notch or the people in it.
However, a violent avalanche threatens their base one day, and they find the need to leave the notch and escape to a safer base. But while they’re at it, they’re killed, and the notch is safe and untouched. The story is filled with morals and recalls the popular statement, ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’
Roger Malvin’s Burial
‘Roger Melvin’s Burial’ is a fiction written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the short stories category and published singly in 1832 – and later in ‘Mosses from an Old Manse,’ 1846.
It follows the thrilling story of two war survivors, Reuben Bourne and Roger Malvin, who are brutally injured and making their way home. They’re in the forest, and it appears they both can’t make it alive, so Malvin – who’s much older – convinces Bourne to leave him behind and save himself but on the promise to arrange a proper burial for him later.
Bourne goes home to his family but forgets about his promise to Malvin. Even though he is praised by the people for his brave return, his conscience doesn’t forgive him for not keeping his promise to Malvin and for hiding the truth from Malvin’s daughter and his wife Dorcas.
As the years pass, Bourne – now has a son – grows emotionally unstable, and the memories of war won’t allow him to fit in society. He convinces his wife and buys a property on the outskirts of town, and one day goes camping with his son in the woods and mistakenly shoots him thinking he had seen a deer. As he grieves, his attention is called to the fact that the location he kills his son is the same as where he had left Malvin to die many years ago.
How many short stories did Nathaniel Hawthorne write?
Hawthorne wrote several great short story collections – with his tally totaling more than twenty short stories in all.
Which short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne is the most popular?
The short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne are all very interesting; however, in order of their popularity, ‘Young Goodman Brown’ seems to be the most favored in terms of his most famed short story.
What is the prevalent theme in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s list of short stories?
Hawthorne wrote about all kinds of subjects, but the most prevalent themes readers are more likely to come across while reading his short stories are those bordering on the subject of sin and transgression, God, religion, and belief systems.