Hawthorne’s works show a striking awareness of both the current social, financial, and political environment in which he was writing, however also a keen understanding and gratitude for historical events. Much of the names in his stories, for example, can be traced back to historical figures, including additional measurements of meaning and possible analysis that bring the reader beyond the plot.
For example, Hawthorne’s account of the witch trial in “Young Goodman Brown” was not drawn from pure fictional creativity. A number of the characters were called after real people charged with witchcraft in Salem, and the story occurs in the pasture that was stated to be the witches’ meeting place. John Hathorne, one Hawthorne’s paternal ancestors, was a well-known “witch judge” who did not later repent his actions during the hysteria. Hawthorne later on included a “w” to his name, and some have suggested that Hawthorne felt the weight of his forefather’s role in the wrongful persecution of so many.
Several of the other tales in this collection were inspired by real events, locations, or people: “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”, which begins with a short review of governors dispatched by colonists before the American Revolution, centers around the nephew of a fictionalized version of an usurped governor; “Roger Malvin’s Burial” recommendations a real fight in between settlers and Native Americans that acts as a leaping off point for a tale of a haunted soldiers; “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” uses the names of actual people for characters that loosely fit their equivalents’ expert lives; “The Minister’s Black Veil” may have been influenced by a real minister who used a veil in his parish after inadvertently triggering a friend’s death; “Wakefield” broadens upon a story Hawthorne checked out in a newspaper; and “The Maypole of Merry Mount” is an exaggerated tale of an actual settlement in Massachusetts.
Hawthorne was likewise wrote about issues that were socially relevant in his day. His views on households and ladies also stand apart in his stories. Hawthorne typically represents ladies with a supportive attitude, exploring the subjugation of ladies throughout a time of social change and presenting them often as victims at the hands of men. In most of his tales, families are inefficient, with individuality triumphing over the entire. Even in cases where the family unit stays close together (“The Birthmark”, “Roger Malvin’s Burial”), the balance of power is not similarly divide amongst its members. For instance, in “The Birthmark”, Aylmer plainly takes the lead; in “Roger Malvin’s Burial”, Dorcas is forced to blindly follow her spouse Reuben, unable to change her scenario. When family units disintegrate (“My Kinsman, Major Molineux”, “Wakefield”) there appears to be a deep and enduring divide drawn between the characters. For instance, at the dawn of the American Revolution, Robin in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”, dissociates himself from his relative whose British attachments cause violent usurping. Robin winds up looking for a new life without the influence of his older kinsman. In his works, Hawthorne discovers seclusion, not connection, to be the basis of American life.