The morality and marriage of taste and imagination in Nathaniel Hawthorne's fiction.
Access changed 7/1/13.
Throughout his writing, Nathaniel Hawthorne is interested in the power of art to bring about positive ethical change. In his tales, he questions the ability of aesthetic taste (as it was understood by Scottish Common Sense philosophy) to morally reward the discerning critic. In contrast with the Scots, he posits a creative, Romantic imagination in The Scarlet Letter as the means for moral development—suggesting that artistry rather than art brings about real ethical change. Later on, in The Marble Faun, his last completed novel, Hawthorne synthesizes the goals of Common Sense taste with the method of Romantic imagination, encouraging his readers to become artists themselves. He also creates Hilda the copyist as a symbol of this marriage and as an example of the moral benefits of imaginative taste. Ultimately, for Hawthorne, viewers must—like Hilda—exercise their imaginations along with the artist in order to draw moral benefits from works of art.