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Thread: "Earth's Holocaust" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

  1. #1
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    "Earth's Holocaust" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

    Hawthorne's short story is a "parable," indicating that the story itself is an allegory, symbolizing a larger point. The premise is that human progress has reached its zenith-- nowhere to go, nothing to do-- except destroy everything in order to start from scratch.

    Hence, somebody's bright idea to build a big bonfire and reduce everything to ashes. Ridiculoous, right?
    Over-the-top exaggeration is a pretty good hint that Hawthorne is jumping headfirst into satire.

    Like all good satire, the story has some very funny elements (at least to yours fooly.) For example, chosing the appropriate site for the event involves input from the insurance companies! Another humorous passage involves the hesitation, pussy-footing, maybe sneaking a few final hits of hootch before tossing the last of the world's liquor into the flames. Even within the outlandish premise, Hawthorne knows human nature and presents it realistically. Incidentally, this is a good example of "showing" v. "telling" how mere humans are be reluctant to sacrifice the worldly things they love (especially things that make them feel good.)

    What's even more interesting, to me anyway, is the last item fed to the fire -- even the Bible has to go. What is your opinion on what Hawthorne is saying about religion in this story?

    One of the "executioners" -- the small group of men charged with actually throwing the items into the fire decides that (after downing the last remaining drops of liquor), they might as well go hang themselves on the nearest tree, the world is perfect now, no use for them.

    Cue the mysterious stranger (an early precursor, perhaps, of Mark Twain's titular character) to come upon the scene. He tells the would-be suicide that he might as well stick around --not only is the world far from perfect, it never will reach that state. So much for this burning everything/ starting over, because nothing can change the evil in the human heart.

    What? Is Nathaniel Hawthorne a 19th century version of a Neocon? Does he deny the perfectability of human nature, the endless progress of civilization, and limitless American optimism? Wow.

    Or is just pulling our legs, telling a joke?

    What d'ya think?
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 01-25-2015 at 01:37 AM.

  2. #2
    Registered User Iain Sparrow's Avatar
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    And here I thought that brand of cynicism only manifested itself in the 20th Century.
    I do believe that Hawthorne is having one over on us, just poking a tiger with a stick.

    I do seem to recall a certain short story by HH Munro, in his 'The Collected Short Stories of Saki', wherein a wealthy old woman, who was most charitable and fashionably altruistic, is working towards a better world; though she tirelessly works on behalf of the downtrodden, she would not be opposed to this new world order coming about... after she's dead and buried. Which if you've read stories by HH Munro, is going to be sooner than later.

  3. #3
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    I agree with you, Iain, that Hawthorne is pulling readers' legs. If I recall, he actually gives us a hint that he's kidding in his last paragraph. What an compelling premise and story, though.

    I'll make a note to look up the Saki story. I love that phrase of yours, "fashionably altruistic."


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