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Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Celestial Railroad

Updated on April 30, 2011

A Book Review

Cat's Eye Nebula
Cat's Eye Nebula

My sister recently gave me a Signet Classic book, entitled, "The Celestial Railroad" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It was a collection of short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I was familiar with most of the stories, since Hawthorne is one of my very favorite authors and "House of the Seven Gables" one of my very favorite books.

I had never read the Hawthorne story "The Celestial Railroad". It was a satire, and extended metaphor, loosely based on "Pilgrim's Progress", a book from a time before Hawthorne's time.

Hawthorne started this dream sequence boarding a railroad, a modern improvement on the old way of taking a pilgrimage to the Celestial City, which was hiking along on foot, carrying a heavy load. The passengers jeered at two pilgrims which were making the pilgrimage the old -fashioned way.

In Hawthorne's dream, he passed by the Valley of the Shadow of Death, he passed by the Slough of Despond; he passed by Vanity Fair. (Vanity Fair was my favorite part of this story--how people traded in strength, honor, truth, loyalty; even their very souls for the empty claptrap of a vain and frivolous society.)

The Celestial Railroad made it to the land of Beulah, the very portals of heaven, then the passengers were disgorged. No one made it across the River Styx to the Celestial City, except for the two pilgrims who plodded along on foot with their heavy loads, making the pilgrimage the old-fashioned way.

I like a lot of Hawthorne's writing. It has that flavor of the days when America was first settled and civilized and many of it's northeastern towns and cities were still being born. American wasn't even 100 years old yet, and it was still very much The New World. Much of his writing sounds like English writers, with careful diction allied with Hawthornes own unique powerful imagery, and Hawthorne's deep and haunting sense of mystery. I like the heavy Gothic flavor of Hawthorne's writing, and his romanticism.

This piece was a little different. There was a harsher, more judgemental tone to it. It read almost like a morality play. The satire was worthy of Jonathan Swift. It had a bitter edge, though, that I don't usually associate with Hawthorne's writing.

I'd recommend it. Most definitely. It's been a while since I've read anything with that pure power of language.



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    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're very welcome, Cheeky Girl. I'm so glad you've read (and enjoyed) Hawthorne's unique and unextinguishable power of language.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      I read Hawthorne when I was little. I have often seen re-issues of his work. I think quality writing never dies, he was a genius author. I got sucked into some of his work by just the fantastic titles alone. From a distance, I thought as a kid that he was a sci-fi author! Just goes to show how green I was. Thanks for a great hub.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Elliot. You really said it, that "Puritanic gloom". Great writing gets to me every tiem. I've only read a little of CS Lewis, "Through the Shadowlands", and "Out of the Silent Planet", and both, though of the period, almost felt like a combination of sci-fi and an ancient mystery play. Great writing. Love it!

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      elliot.dunn 8 years ago

      i just read this short story in my American Literature class. you also might like THE GREAT DIVORCE by C.S. LEWIS. he sounds very similar themes. the celestial railroad's focus on human laziness and the american desire, even then, to do whatever causes the least amount of pain is very telling. the narrator's realization that he has been fooled at the end sends such waves of regret through the reader...if only he'd taken the poor, mocked way of the pilgrim.

      by far my favorite thing about Hawthorne is what Herman Melville called his sense of "Puritanic gloom". Hawthorne gets into the depraved heart of man, rolls around in its filth, and spits it onto the page. love Hawthorne.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks Squiggles. You're SO CUTE!

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      SquigglesMcBeeBee 8 years ago

      best title EVER. I only read dat one book by him about da letter A, but I just might give dis one a whirl ;)