In this thesis, I aim to investigate the special relationship between two major concerns in Hawthorne’s fiction—sin and sympathy. Sin can be regarded as the violation of morality and the disrespect for the sanctity of the human soul while sympathy is the ability to feel with others and share their burdens out of a merciful intention. Although superficially sin seems not to be relevant to sympathy, in the six works discussed in this thesis—“Young Goodman Brown,” “Wakefield,” “Ethan Brand,” “The Minister's Black Veil,” The Blithedale Romance, and The Scarlet Letter—Hawthorne is concerned about the close and complicated relationship between the two. Thus, the misuse of sympathy may result in sin, while the power of sympathy can bring the sinner out the isolation resulting from sin.
Hawthorne deems that the human heart is a combination of holiness and evil. In the four stories discussed in the second chapter we can see when evil dominates the human heart and leads the individual to commit sin, the sinner may suffer from isolation. In the third chapter I will study The Blithedale Romance as an example to illustrate that a sympathetic intention may become an evil if sympathy is misused. In chapter four I will tackle The Scarlet Letter to show that a sinner can compensate for his fault and come back to society as long as he wins others’ acceptance through the power of sympathy.
As the “magnetic chain of humanity”—the individual’s human bond and relationship with one another—is indispensable for an individual to exist in the world, in the concluding chapter I will explain that by dealing with the complicated relationship between sin and sympathy, Hawthorne projects his great insight to his works. As a result, this is what makes his literary works immortal.