About Nathaniel Hawthorne: "Alice Doane's Appeal"

A work on truth and fiction

Term Paper, 2002

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Free online reading

Table of contents

I. Introduction

II. Main part
a. The frame tale: Author and narrator
b. The inner tale: The effect of fiction
c. The witch procession: The effect of truth
d. Incestry and Ancestry
e. Gothic elements

III. Conclusion

I. Introduction

A short story, as Edgar Allan Poe defined it, has to fulfil certain criteria to satisfy both readership and critics. These criteria refer firstly to the length, meaning that the reader must be able to read it in one session. The second requirement is to achieve a unified effect on the reader. This effect ought to create certain emotions and feelings, and through these the reader learns the intention of the author.[1]

On first sight Nathaniel Hawthorne’s storyAlice Doane’s Appealseems to go beyond the scope of Poe’s theory. Considering the fact that the story is not even a single tale with one time, few characters and one intention, it would be easy to say that there can never be a “unity of effect or impression”[2], because the story has a cluttered content.

It consists of two different tales, which have in common only the setting, the narrator and in few aspects, the theme. Both are of about the same length, but are clearly differentiated by a distance of time. One part contains the tale of Alice Doane and her brothers and turns out as being pure fiction. The other tale is about the narrator’s telling of this story to two girls and their reaction to it[3]. Also important to mention is the short fictitious description of a historical event, a procession of accused witches, that took place on the same location as the two other stories.

The story about Alice Doane seems to be the most important part, considering that her name is part of the title. But on closer look, the author himself expresses the intended meaning of the whole story: It describes the “trial whether truth were more powerful than fiction”[4]. In this respect this interpretation wants to show thatAlice Doane’s Appealdoes completely fulfil Poe’s criteria, but in a very special way. The unity of effect that is so important in Poe’s theory refers to the response of the reader.

To analyse this response is Hawthorne’s intention in the story; so it seems only natural that he integrated the reader’s reaction into his tale. Or, to say it more precisely, he put the second story around the first and gave it a chronological order. Alice Doane’s Appealis the test (or proof) which way of telling is best to evoke the desired effects in the audience. Hawthorne uses firstly a fantastic story, describes the reaction of the girls and then sketches a real event. At the end there is the realization that no man can ever create such horrible stories as history has produced. To evoke real, deep and lasting emotions in the audience, a writer must choose his topic from history and reality.

To comprehend Hawthorne’s intention, the modus operandi and his conclusion, this interpretation will be composed in a similar order to the short story itself:

The beginning will be about the role of author and narrator and his motifs. Firstly, his motifs for dividing one short story into three smaller parts., and secondly, for telling his companions a story just in the way he did. After this exposition comes the first of the inner tales: The relationship between Alice and her two brothers, marked by the mutual hatred of the men and their love to Alice. At the same time further family problems are revealed which have to do with past times and past generations. And especially the descriptions of these scenes carry Gothic features. In elaborating on Gothic characteristics it becomes obvious that the author places special emphasis on the atmosphere. The themes of family and atmosphere are also important in the second inner tale, the historical procession of witches. Then finally, in comparison of both tales, it can be examined whether the author was successful, whether he caused the intended reaction in his audience and how he expresses his conclusion.

To start chronologically, the author’s own comments on narration and narrator in the frame tale are to be analysed.

II. Main Part

a. The frame tale: Author and narrator

Alice Doane’s Appealcan be divided into three parts and all of them are written by the same person (he uses the first person all through the story)[5]. The inner tale is, as he says, a story he wrote a long time ago and that was among others which he destroyed (cp. 269). This remark caused Alfred Weber to suppose thatAlice Doane’s Appealonce belonged to the “Seven Tales of My Native Land”[6], a collection of fiction stories Hawthorne never published. In this context Weber thinks that the representation of the witch procession was similar to the more historic “Provincial Tales”. Alice Doane’s Appealis in his opinion a critical look of Hawthorne at his two ways of representing history.

The narrator in the frame tale gives to understand that since he wrote the story his point of view has changed and he feels a “dread of renewing my acquaintance with fantasies that had lost their charm” (269). So because he knows the story not too well any more, and perhaps because he has in the meantime established different priorities and tells the story in another way than he would have told it then, the reader feels the presence of the narrator:

He interrupts the flow of the story and summarizes the events that happen (“the story described, at some length, the excitement […], 270), he gives comments (“senseless as an idiot”, 270) and places stresses on certain passages (the confessions of Leonard Doane; descriptions of the scene are not summarized). So he proves that in the meantime he has also emotionally distanced himself from this topic. This interval between the time of writing and the time of telling the story can also be applied to the author: There are hints in the frame text that the tale of Alice Doane came into being before the frame tale did[7]. For example Weber identified the “historian” (267) the author mentions and assigned a date to him. That helped to conclude that the author reflected upon his story before writing the exposition. Basing on certain remarks in the text the writer can be identified as Hawthorne himself[8]. The reference to the Token (cp. 269) is one hint; it included many of Hawthorne’s early stories. That was also whereAlice Doane’s Appealappeared in 1835. The next point is the setting: Through his ancestor, who had been involved in witch trials, he always was attracted by the original scenery of Salem.

The fact that the considerations of the author are placed at the beginning, at the end and in the midst of the short story shows that the main emphasis is clearly put on the frame tale. That the inner tale (of the Doane siblings) and the witch procession are told as a résumé for the most part, confirms this thesis. The passages that are not summarized carry a special meaning and will be analysed later in this text.

First it is important to have a closer look at the exposition. The frame tale is meant as being true: A writer remembers how he told one of his tales to two girls during a trip. His “wondrous tale” (269) is placed in the home town of the three, in Salem, a city infamous for its witch trials. In telling the story he wants to bring back the inglorious history and to keep the sad memory alive. He condemns the people’s “commemoration of they know not what” (267), so he wrote a fictitious tale in the attempt to bring about the “summons of the shadowy past” (267).

What makes his plan more difficult is the “gayety” (268) of weather and “girlish spirits” (268), but he relies on “all the melancholy associations” (268) and the authenticity of the scene.

The atmosphere of the scenery seems to be a significant prerequisite for Hawthorne. He puts hard work into preparing the right aura before any action takes place:

By this fantastic piece of description, and more in the same style, I intended to throw a ghostly glimmer round the reader, […], and make it a proper theatre (274).

The idea behind it is that his audience could and should completely identify with the hero(ine) of the story; not only with heart and soul, but also physically it ought to feel the aura of “the town in 1692” (269).


[1]Cp. Edgar Allan Poe, “Review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’sTwice Told Tales”, in A. Walton Litz (ed.),Major American Short Stories(OUP, 1994) 10-13.

[2]Ibid. 10.

[3]I will refer to these parts as ‘inner tale’ and ‘frame tale’.

[4]Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Alice Doane’s Appeal”, in W. Charvat, Roy Harvey Pearce, Claude M Simpson (eds.),The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne(Ohio State Univ. Pr., 1974. 266-280) 278. Page references in this text are to this edition.

[5]In my interpretation I will use „narrator“ and „author“ as synonyms.

[6]Cp. Alfred Weber,Die Entwicklung der Rahmenerzählungen Nathaniel Hawthornes – „The Story-Teller“ und andere frühe Werke(Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1973) 112.

[7]Cp. Weber,Rahmenerzählungen, 114. He analysed allusions in the frame tale and was able to limit the time of the story’s origin between 1831 and 1835.

[8]Cp. ibid. 114ff. Weber found many parallels to Hawthorne’s life. I will not elaborate on these hints but give a summary of the most important results of his analysis.

16 of 16 pages


About Nathaniel Hawthorne: "Alice Doane's Appeal"
A work on truth and fiction
University of Stuttgart  (Institut für Anglistik: Amerikanistik)
Critical Analysis: Prose
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
File size
462 KB
About, Nathaniel, Hawthorne, Alice, Doane, Appeal, Critical, Analysis, Prose
Quote paper
Natalie Abt (Author), 2002, About Nathaniel Hawthorne: "Alice Doane's Appeal", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/120860


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