New Meets Old: Hawthorne's Representation of America and Europe in The Marble Faun

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

20 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)



1. Introduction

2. Europe – The American Problem in the 19th century

3. The Myth of America

4. Transferring the topic into a story
4.1. The preface
4.2. Using the stereotypes

5. Who is Hilda?
5.1. A characterization of Hilda
5.2. Hilda as the moral center
5.3. Hilda’s crises

6. From inferiority to superiority
6.1.The changing description of Rome
6.2. The Americans’ development towards superiority
6.3. And the winner is

7. Conclusion

8. Works Cited

1. Introduction

In this paper I will deal with Hawthorne’s last romance The Marble Faun or The Romance of Monte Beni. Since it is Hawthorn’s only romance that he wrote in and about Europe, I am interested in the representations of Europe and America within the book.

In my analysis I want to show that Hawthorne represents America and Europe as opposites and turns them into opponents in the fight of America versus Europe. In the course of this paper I would like to find out about the reasons for his contrary representations of the two continents. Furthermore I want to uncover the purpose of Hawthorne’s different representations.

The thesis, which I want to prove here, is that Hawthorne deals with the American feeling of cultural inferiority towards Europe and its eventual overcoming by means of the Myth of America. The characters in The Marble Faun are created according to the American and European stereotypes, which the myth makes use of, and serve as means for expressing the conflict. In this context, I want to show that The Marble Faun is a pro-America romance. Pro-America because Hawthorne is conform to the Myth of America and praises innocence, a virtue which America claims exclusively for itself. Based on the claim of innocence America claims leadership, which is supported by Hawthorne.

First of all I will deal with the roots of the tensions between Europe and America and the traditional stereotypical treatment of them. Then I will explain the Myth of America and the reason for its invention.

After these two introductory parts I want to concern myself with the question of how Hawthorne transferred the topic of America versus Europe into a story. Proceeding from the assumption that the Myth of America served as a basis, I want to deal more closely with the stereotypes and point out the parallels to the main characters. Coming from the stereotypes I will take a closer look at the female figures, Miriam and Hilda. I will show that they represent the stereotypical Europe and America most perfectly. The American character Hilda is for me of great interest because she constitutes the moral center of the romance. Moreover Hawthorne uses mostly her figure to carry out the pro-America tendencies of the book. By looking at Hawthorne’s treatment of Hilda I will demonstrate the strong orientation at the Myth of America and his praise of the American virtue.

In the last chapter I will come back to the American feelings of cultural inferiority towards Europe. My intention is to show how Hawthorne deals with the problem and how he uses the Myth of America to turn the American characters’ cultural inferiority into overall superiority.

2. Europe – The American Problem in the 19th century

America and Europe are traditionally thought as opposites. Europe is the Old, America the New World. Additional to old and new there are attributes which have always been used when comparing the two continents, such as guilt, past, history, culture for Europe and innocence, future, and lack of history, lack of culture for America. These contrasting representations or stereotypes go way back in time; they evolved in the course of the American separation process from Europe.

Over a long period of time America had not been able to exist without Europe. The new world depended economically upon the old continent. Culturally America was in Europe’s shadow and did not manage to get out of it until the 20th century, and America’s political influence was small. The American idea was not thinkable without thinking at the same time of Europe. Already the terming of the two continents makes these dependencies visible: “new” does not make sense without “old”[1].

The strong dependency on Europe resulted in a feeling of inferiority, especially felt by American artists whose works had to live up to and were measured by European standards. To produce art without the label “European imitation” clinging to it was nearly impossible. This circumstance generally lead to a negative or at least ambivalent attitude towards Europe. For the European Americans the Old World was both fascinating and contemptible. Fascinating because it was the land of their forefathers and it was packed with history and cultural, contemptible because America did not possess history and culture which had developed out of its own. The presence of Europe in the American conscience denied America the wish to be original and independent. Out of these ambivalent feelings many Americans travelled to Europe in the 19th century. Europe was part of the American history. To find the American identity required to deal with what had been taken along from the old continent and what had newly developed in America. Their intention was to get to know the familiar stranger Europe, and to find their roots and the American identity[2].

What didn’t interest Americans was Europe as it really was. American tourists wanted to get to know Europe as it was described in books, a fairy land densely packed with history and culture. They wanted the stereotypes. They wanted the cathedrals not the factories (Lawrence 285). The reality was then often times a disillusionment for the sights weren’t as glorious as imagined and Europe, too, had its shabby and dull sides[3]. Still, although reality was less stereotypic as it had been imagined, stereotypes persisted. And even today these stereotypes are frequently used and still have many supporter on both sides. Especially in Europe the idea of America being a “cultural desert” remains a current prejudice. Americans on the other hand still think of Europe as the guilty continent (of course not for the same reasons as in the 19th century), and of themselves as innocent. Stereotypes “tend to be peculiarly persistent because they are often deeply rooted in prevailing national complexes and needs.” (qtd. in Opfermann 22). Stereotypes serve a purpose. They help to construct the identity. In contrast to another, the own being becomes clearer and more tangible. The often times confusing or contradictory reality is boiled down.

Many American authors used the stereotypic Europe as a basis for dealing – indirectly or directly – with their own nation and the stereotypes connected with it. They contrasted America against Europe and were thus able to show the American reader what America, in their opinion, was. To comment on the native country is easier from a distance. When the native country is not in the center of attention the (positive or negative) comment is less direct. But the confrontation with the other always implies the dealing with the self.

3. The Myth of America

The feeling of inferiority in comparison with Europe weighed heavily on the American self-esteem. In order to compensate the inferiority complex and gain superiority over little Europe, the Myth of America was created.

This myth says that America possesses a virtue of high value, that is innocence. America is free from guilt because it has not dark past but only a bright future. According to the myth America is the God-given second chance for humanity to start anew without the burden of the past. One can find many parallels between the myth and the Puritan theology. “The Puritan theology rested primarily upon the doctrine of predestination and the inefficaciousness of good works; it separated men sharply and certainly into two groups, the saved and the damned…” (Winters 290). Simultaneously to the statement about America the myth makes therefore a statement about Europe. It assumes that Europe has missed the first chance to become a land according to Christian morality. Europe is stained with guilt because of its past. That way the former disadvantage of having no past and therefore no culture is turned into an advantage over Europe. At the same time culture and innocence are valued against each other. Looking at it from this perspective, the American gives innocence a higher significance. For the sake of innocence the American condemns history and relinquishes culture.


[1] Aber zumindest bis zur Unabhängigkeit war die Gesellschaft der Weißen in Nordamerika ... zunächst einmal “Fragment Europas“ gewesen. Europa war präsent in Amerika, und selbst wenn politisch die Unabhängigkeit erkämpft werden konnte, blieben die wirtschaftliche und kulturellen Beziehungen zum Mutterkontinent sehr eng. (Opfermann 14).

[2] We go to Europe to be Americanized (qtd. in Opfermann 16).

[3] Hawthorne felt that disillusionment as well, and in one of his diary entries it says that: “An American must always have imagined a better cathedral [of Chester] than this; although it is a great old dreary place enough” (Hawthorne, The English Notebooks 29).

Excerpt out of 20 pages


New Meets Old: Hawthorne's Representation of America and Europe in The Marble Faun
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Philology, English Seminar)
Reading Hawthorne's Romance
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
388 KB
Meets, Hawthorne, Representation, America, Europe, Marble, Faun, Reading, Hawthorne, Romance
Quote paper
Tonia Fondermann (Author), 2003, New Meets Old: Hawthorne's Representation of America and Europe in The Marble Faun, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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