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The function of ambiguity in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble faun

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Sather, Marvin C.
Maik, Thomas A.; Felch, William E.; Burns, Robert L.
MS, Master of Science in Teaching
Jul 1970
Hawthorne, Nathaniel -- 1804-1864 -- Marble faun
Since its publication in 1860, The Marble Faun has been the subject of much controversy. Most criticism of the romance attacks its many unsolved mysteries. Many early critics felt that Hawthorne did not come to any definite conclusions. In answer to them, he wrote a "Postscript" in which he restated that it was absolutely essential that The Marble Faun have an air of inconclusiveness about it. Modern critics have found the romance distasteful, too; they are particularly unhappy with Hawthorne's many detailed descriptions of Italian art, while his characters seem too insubstantial. Most of their criticism is directed toward Hilda; she is simply too pure for the reader. The problem, therefore, is to re-examine The Marble Faun to determine whether or not Hawthorne's deliberate attempt at ambiguity can be made meaningful to the reader. To solve this problem, a certain procedure needed to be formulated. After reading the novel and surveying the critical analyses of the romance, I concluded that certain areas of study were of particular importance -- Hawthorne's choice of genre, the Italian setting and its impact of characterization, the symbolism of art, and the theme of the Fortunate Fall. All these areas were often mentioned by critics as being both important to an interpretation of the work and important in that there were divergent views held concerning Hawthorne's intent. Having completed these studies, several conclusions become apparent. First, modern critics err when they analyze The Marble Faun as a novel; it must be read as a romance as Hawthorne intended. Secondly, since Hawthorne leaves so many question unanswered, he must have had a specific purpose in mind. Finally, and most importantly, this ambiguity, when interpreted as being Hawthorne's purpose, makes the romance meaningful: Hawthorne uses ambiguity to reveal the complexity of humanity and the dilemma man faces in achieving a unified view of existence.
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