Issues of faith and religion, that is, issues of the spirit, so permeated Hawthorne's thinking as to shape nearly everything he wrote. He did not merely grow up in Salem, but, as Rita Gollin suggests in "Figurations of Salem in 'Young Goodman Brown' and 'The Custom-House,'" absorbed Salem's past, especially the dark history of his ancestors' participation in the persecution of Quakers and later of those accused a witchcraft.
"Hawthorne and Melville,"
lecture by Dr. David Kesterson, University of North Texas delivered at Phillips
Library, the Peabody Essex Museum on September 23, 2000.
Hawthorne's friendship with Herman Melville, as David Kesterson points out in his lecture "Hawthorne and Melville," was characterized by the fascination both writers had with the unquiet depths of the human heart and mind. It is almost impossible to look deeply into any aspect of Hawthorne's life or writing and not encounter his concern with this framework of faith.
British novelist Anthony Trollope finds a quiet drollery even in the darkest passages of Hawthorne's work and suggests that even our deepest sufferings are not so important as to elevate us above others. If Trollope is correct, this might be due to Hawthorne's modest unwillingness to exalt anything, even sin and its suffering, to a place where it might invite pride.
By identifying Hawthorne's rejection of an equation of prosperity and virtue,
especially in the money-centered novel The House of the Seven Gables,
Professor Johnson demonstrates the author's reaction against some elements of
his Puritan heritage as well as their evolved variations in his own bourgeois
milieu. Specifically, she notes the tension between the Puritan doctrine of
secular calling and Hawthorne's profession as a writer of fiction, and she makes
clear that his depictions of the so-called Protestant Ethic tend to undermine
aspects of that concept's validity. Hawthorne's "Framework of Faith," therefore,
clearly includes not only the echoes of seventeenth century Puritan beliefs
but also their consequences in the materialism of his own times