Michael J. Cummings...©
dusk on an August evening with a half-moon and clouds tinted in sunset
colors, Bartram tends his lime kiln on Mount Greylock in Western Massachusetts
while his son, Joe, plays nearby. Suddenly, they hear unearthly laughter
from the slope below—“solemn, like a wind shaking the boughs of the forest.”
Bartram thinks its source is a mirthful drunk from the village tavern,
but the boy is frightened because the laugh is not a happy one.
thereafter, a man emerges from bushes.
kiln is the same one that a villager named Ethan Brand tended before he
embarked on a worldwide search for “the Unpardonable Sin.” He has been
gone for eighteen years. The kiln, made of stone, is round and about twenty
feet high. A dirt ramp running to the top of the kiln allows carts carrying
marble blocks and chips to drop their cargo into it. At the bottom of the
kiln is a heavy iron door that Bartram opens now and then to stir the fire
with a long pole and feed it with oak logs. When the door is closed, smoke
and flames escape through “chinks and crevices, making the door look like
the entrance to hell." It is one of many kilns in the marble-rich region,
some no longer in use and overgrown with vegetation, others still roaring
with fire that burns marble into lime.
threatens to brain the man with a piece of marble if he does not come forward
and reveal himself. Then he opens the kiln door to cast light on the visitor,
who is approaching. He is a tall, thin man in brown clothes. He carries
the staff of a traveler.
evening, stranger," said the lime-burner; "whence come you, so late in
come from my search," answered the wayfarer; "for, at last, it is finished."
tells Joe the man is drunk or crazy; he will try to get rid of him. The
child asks his father to close the kiln door, for the man’s gaze is frightful.
Oddly, though, it is a gaze that both attracts and repels the viewer with
“an indescribable something in . . . deeply sunken eyes, which gleamed
like fires. . . .” Bartram closes the door. The man speaks in a calm voice
that suggests there is little to fear.
task draws to an end, I see," said he. "This marble has already been burning
three days. A few hours more will convert the stone to lime."
identifies himself as the aforementioned Ethan Brand. Bartram says people
in the village still talk about him after so many years. He asks Brand
whether he has found what he was looking for: the Unpardonable Sin. Brand
says yes and points to his heart: “Here!” And then he laughs again, seeming
to sum up “the infinite absurdity of seeking throughout the world for what
was the closest of all things to himself. . . .”
he sits on a log and gazes at the iron door, Bartram sends his son to the
village tavern to announce that Ethan Brand has returned after finding
the Unpardonable Sin. After the boy hurries off, Bartram becomes uneasy,
for now he is alone with this strange man. Stories about him say that conversations
between him and Satan would take place before this same kiln after the
archfiend emerged from the kiln fire through the iron door. At dawn, he
would go back inside.
Brand got up and opened the iron door, fear seized Bartram.
Hold!” he says. “Don’t, for mercy sake, bring out your devil now!”
Brand tells him, “I have left the devil behind me, in my track. It is with
such halfway sinners as you that he busies himself.” He further says he
wants only to tend the fire, as he once did, then pokes at the coals, throws
in wood, and closes the door. On his travels, he says, he met people with
hearts blazing with sin far hotter than the kiln fire, but he did not find
in them the Unpardonable Sin. It was in his own heart that he found it—“A
sin that grows nowhere else! The sin of an intellect that triumphed over
the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed
everything to its own mighty claims.” It is the only sin that damns a man
eternally. However, he says, if need be he would freely commit the sin
again and accept its penalty. Bartram begins to think Brand is crazed.
that moment, Bartram hears talking and laughing as the men from the tavern
begin to arrive, to his relief. He opens the iron door to cast the fire’s
light on Brand. Among the villagers is the stage agent, smartly dressed
in a coat with brass buttons, puffing on a cigar. Drinking brandy tended
to stimulate his dry sense of humor. Another is Lawyer Giles, an elderly
man wearing tow-cloth pants and a soiled shirt. He had once been a practicing
lawyer, a good one; but drink got the better of him. So did misfortune:
He lost a hand to a steam engine and part of a foot to the wayward chop
of an axe. However, he has the spirit to carry on and now works as a soap
boiler. There is also the town doctor, a man of fifty made crude and savage
by drink but retaining his remarkable skills as a healer. He had once visited
Ethan Brand when the latter was thought insane. These men offer Brand a
drink from a black bottle, but he rejects it, saying, "Leave me ye brute
beasts, that have made yourselves so, shrivelling up your souls with fiery
liquors! I have done with you. Years and years ago, I groped into your
hearts, and found nothing there for my purpose."
you uncivil scoundrel,” the doctor replies. Then he says Brand has not
found the so-called Unpardonable sin. He is simply a crazy man who would
make good company for “old Humphrey, here”—a man with white hair who was
also rousted from the tavern. The old fellow had spent many years traveling
in search of his daughter, who had joined a circus. It is said that she
can perform dazzling feats on a tightrope and on the back of a horse. Humphrey
asks Brand whether he encountered his daughter on his worldwide travels.
Brand cannot look him directly in the eye, for he had used the girl as
a “subject of a psychological experiment, and wasted, absorbed, and perhaps
annihilated her soul, in the process.” Turning away, Brand says it is true—he
has discovered the Unpardonable Sin.
several young villagers arrive to look at Brand but are disappointed to
see an ordinary man in unremarkable clothes. However, they find amusement
put on by a passing traveler—a Jew from Nuremberg, Germany—to make a few
extra coins. Looking into his box through openings covered with a magnifying
glass, they see painted pictures of scenes from Europe—public buildings,
castles, scenes of Napoleon’s battles, cities. The pictures are wrinkled
and dirty—in short, unspectacular. The showman then asks Joe to place his
head through the opening in the back of the box. When he does so, viewers
see a gigantic smiling head. However, the mirthful countenance suddenly
takes on a look of terror when the boy sees Ethan Brand’s eye peering through
make the little man to be afraid, Captain,” says the showman. (He addresses
all the men as Captain.) "But look again, and, by chance, I shall cause
you to see somewhat that is very fine, upon my word!"
Brand again looks in, he sees nothing. Brand then says he remembers the
showman from his travels. The latter replies that he has been bearing a
great burden in the box he carries from place to place—the Unpardonable
Sin. He is mocking Brand; for, as Brand saw, the box was empty when he
Brand says, “or get thee into the furnace yonder.”
old dog that had wandered onto the scene attracts everyone’s attention
when it begins to chase its tail—much shorter than it should be—while barking
and gnarling and biting at that which it cannot catch. It keeps up the
chase, amid roars of laughter, until exhaustion turns it back into a normal,
Brand laughs too, because the dog’s pursuit of his tail was not unlike
his own pursuit. But the laugh is the same unnerving laugh that Bartram
and Joe heard just before Brand arrived at the kiln. It so frightens the
visitors that they all depart, leaving only Bartram and his son with Brand,
who suggests that he tend the fire while Bartram gets some sleep. Brand
says he has “matters that it concerns me to meditate upon.” Bartram, who
has grown bold after nipping from the black bottle brought by the villagers,
says, “And call the devil out of the furnace to keep you company, I suppose.
But watch, if you like, and call as many devils as you like.”
and Joe then go off. The boy now feels sorry for Ethan, for he senses that
the man suffers from a “terrible loneliness.” As he sits before the fire,
Brand recalls the days many years ago when he sat in this same place feeling
sympathy for humankind and “pity for human guilt and woes.” It was at that
time that he was planning to go on a quest for the Unpardonable Sin but
prayed that he would never discover it. In his deep contemplation, he entered
the realms of philosophy, educating himself to the point that he stood
at a pinnacle of intellectual power far above that of university-educated
philosophers. In the meantime, his heart had “hardened” and “perished”
so that he became a “cold observer” of humankind, using men and women as
subjects for experiments in which he manipulated them into committing sins
that he needed to study. And then he achieved his goal of finding the Unpardonable
there is nothing left to do; his task is finished. He walks to the kiln
and up the ramp to the top, then looks down into the fire and bids farewell
to “mankind, whose brotherhood I have cast off, and trampled thy great
heart beneath my feet” before hurling himself in.
about Ethan Brand invade the sleep of Bartram and his son. In the morning,
they head off to the kiln. It is a bright, cheerful day, prompting Joe
to comment, “Dear father, that strange man is gone, and the sky and the
mountains all seem glad of it!”
they near the kiln, Bartram complains that Brand has let the fire die down.
Consequently, he says, the expected yield of lime—five hundred bushels—may
I catch the fellow hereabouts again," he says, "I shall feel like tossing
him into the furnace!"
he and Joe go up the ramp and look into the kiln, they see a perfect batch
of pure-white lime. In the middle is the skeleton of a man. In the rib
cage is small mass of lime in the shape of a heart. Bartram asks, “Was
the fellow’s heart made of marble?” Realizing that Ethan Brand's bones
have made "my kiln . . . half a bushel the richer," he uses his pole to
pulverize the skeleton.
Ethan Brand: Mysterious
man from western Massachusetts who travels the world in search of what
he calls the Unpardonable Sin. After eighteen years, he returns home to
report that he has found the sin. Ironically, he says, it is in his own
heart. He presents his findings at the scene of a lime kiln on Mount Greylock,
(spelled Gray-lock by Hawthorne) near his home village. He tended
the kiln before going on his quest.
Bartram: Man who
now tends the kiln on Mount Greylock. His job is to keep the fire hot while
it burns marble into lime. He greets and talks with Brand after the latter
returns from his quest.
Joe: Bartram's obedient
and loving child.
Stage Agent: Tavern
patron in the village near Bartram's lime kiln. He favors brandy and cigars
and has a dry sense of humor.
patron in the village near Bartram's lime kiln. Heavy drinking caused him
to fail as a lawyer. He now makes soap.
Village Doctor: Fifty-year-old
tavern patron in the village near Bartram's lime kiln. He is a bad-tempered
man whom "brandy possessed . . . like an evil spirit." However, he is a
skillful practitioner who regularly visits his patients.
tavern patron in the village near Bartram's lime kiln. He asks Ethan Brand
whether he encountered his daughter on his world travels.
Young woman from the village who ran off to join a circus. Before she left,
she was the subject of an evil experiment conducted by Brand before he
set out on his quest for the Unpardonable Sin.
German Jew: Traveler
who stages a diorama show in a box he carries.
Residents of the village near Bartram's lime kiln. News of Ethan Brand's
return attracts them to the kiln, but they soon become more interested
in the traveling showman's diorama.
of Work and Year of Publication
Brand: an Arbortive Romance" is a short story centering on the moral
and psychological condition of a man who has spent eighteen years attempting
to discover the one sin that God will not forgive. It was first published
in 1851 in the May issue of Holden's Dollar Magazine under the title
of "The Unpardonable Sin." It is believed to have been written in 1848.
What the Name Signifies
name of the title character conveys meanings consistent with his mentality
and temperament and with the mood and themes of the story. When lower-cased,
Brand becomes a common noun that can mean (1) a burning
piece of wood, (2) a mark burned into the skin to identify a slave or a
criminal, or (3) a mark of shame or disgrace. Let us consider each of these:
1. Ethan Brand burns
figuratively with an unholy desire during his eighteen-year quest and burns
literally when he hurls himself into the kiln.
The given name Ethan
is biblical. The most famous Ethan in the Bible is Ethan the Ezrahite,
a man thought to be supremely wise but who was eclipsed in his wisdom by
King Solomon. Brand views himself as exceedingly wise; the villagers regard
him as a fool. The German Jew gets the better of him when he tells him
to look into the diorama box to see the Unpardonable Sin. When Brand presses
his eye to a viewing glass set into the box, he sees nothing.
2. He is a slave to his
desire and a criminal who defies moral law.
3. He bears the disgrace
of having committed what he believes is the Unpardonable Sin.
What "Abortive Romance" Signifies
subtitle of the story may refer to a romantic relationship Ethan Brand
could have had with Humphrey's daughter. One can imagine that as his interest
in the Unpardonable Sin deepened, he aborted the romance to conduct his
evil experiments on the young woman.
story is set on Mount
Greylock (spelled Gray-lock by Hawthorne) in northwestern Massachusetts.
At 3,491 feet, the mountain is the highest point in Massachusetts. The
Greylock region is rich in marble deposits. Because the name of the mountain
was not widely used until after 1830, the action in the story probably
takes place between 1830 and 1848, the year Hawthorne was believed to have
written the story. Hawthorne himself visited the region in 1838, when he
climbed the mountain.
here to see a modern map of the Mount Greylock region.
tells the story in omniscient third-person point of view. This approach
enables the narrator to reveal the thoughts of the characters, as in the
following passage in which the narrator tells the reader what Bartram is
He felt that the
little fellow's presence had been a barrier between his guest and himself,
and that he must now deal, heart to heart, with a man who, on his own confession,
had committed the one only crime for which Heaven could afford no mercy.
That crime, in its indistinct blackness, seemed to overshadow him. The
lime-burner's own sins rose up within him, and made his memory riotous
with a throng of evil shapes that asserted their kindred with the Master
Sin, whatever it might be, which it was within the scope of man's corrupted
nature to conceive and cherish. Symbolism
of symbols in the story include the following:
Obsession; passion. When tending and looking into the kiln fire, Ethan
Brand becomes obsessed with the idea of finding the Unpardonable Sin. When
drinking in the tavern or from the black bottle they carry with them, the
village men feed their passion for what Brand calls "fiery liquors." When
observing the subjects of his research, Brand "looked into many a human
heart that was seven times hotter with sinful passions than yonder furnace
fire," he says.
Joe: Christlike love,
sympathy, understanding; innocence. Joe is the opposite of Brand but is
the only character who feels sympathy for him: "As the boy followed his
father into the hut, he looked back at the wayfarer, and the tears came
into his eyes, for his tender spirit had an intuition of the bleak and
terrible loneliness in which this man had enveloped himself."
Black Bottle: See
Old Dog: Common sense.
The old dog's pursuit of his tail parallels Ethan Brand's pursuit of the
Unpardonable Sin. However, when the dog fails to catch his tail after going
round and round in a frenzy, he settles down and becomes "mild, quiet,
sensible, and respectable in his deportment. . . . ," as he was before
he began his pursuit. But after Ethan Brand ends his pursuit, he remains
frenzied and fiendish—full of the devil, as it were—making the claim that
he has found the Unpardonable Sin within himself. Unlike the dog, he lacks
the common sense to abandon his obsession and become what he was before
he embarked on his pursuit.
Marble: Ethan Brand's
hardness of heart.
Brass buttons: The
brass buttons on the coat of the stage agent may suggest that he, like
his companions from the village tavern, is a tainted creature. Brass is
an alloy, a mixture of metals, and therefore inferior to pure metals such
as gold and silver.
a Guide to the Complete Works...................................................
By the Author
of This Web Site
of All the Plays and Narrative Poems | Themes | Imagery | Historical Background
Theatre | Drama Terms | Essays | Analysis of the Sonnets | and Much More
Web Site Amazon.com
ranks as one of the great writers in the English language. He was particularly
adept at crafting imagery that vivifies an ominous incident or an eerie
atmosphere. In the following passage, the narrator reports the effect of
the unsettling laughter that Bartram and little Joe hear when the story
The solitary mountain-side
was made dismal by it. Laughter, when out of place, mistimed, or bursting
forth from a disordered state of feeling, may be the most terrible modulation
of the human voice. The laughter of one asleep, even if it be a little
child—the madman's laugh—the wild, screaming laugh of a born idiot—are
sounds that we sometimes tremble to hear, and would always willingly forget.
Poets have imagined no utterance of fiends or hobgoblins so fearfully appropriate
as a laugh. And even the obtuse lime-burner felt his nerves shaken, as
this strange man looked inward at his own heart, and burst into laughter
that rolled away into the night, and was indistinctly reverberated among
the hills.Notice that Hawthorne uses solitary
to emphasize isolation and dismal to set the mood. He then turns
a normally cheerful sound into a horrifying one, making the reader wonder
about the frame of mind of the man from whom the laughter issued. He next
presents concrete images—of a sleeping child, a madman, and an idiot, then
fiends and hobgoblins—that progress from the earthly to the unearthly.
The laughter becomes all the more unsettling when it invades the nighttime
landscape and echoes in the hills.
evoke a sense of mystery and suggest the presence of evil, Hawthorne skillfully
manipulates the interplay of fire and shadow, light and darkness, as in
the following passage:
At frequent intervals,
he [Bartram] flung back the clashing weight of the iron door, and, turning
his face from the insufferable glare, thrust in huge logs of oak, or stirred
the immense brands with a long pole. Within the furnace were seen the curling
and riotous flames, and the burning marble, almost molten with the intensity
of heat; while without, the reflection of the fire quivered on the dark
intricacy of the surrounding forest, and showed in the foreground a bright
and ruddy little picture of the hut, the spring beside its door, the athletic
and coal-begrimed figure of the lime-burner, and the half-frightened child,
shrinking into the protection of his father's shadow. And when again the
iron door was closed, then reappeared the tender light of the half-full
moon, which vainly strove to trace out the indistinct shapes of the neighboring
mountains; and, in the upper sky, there was a flitting congregation of
clouds, still faintly tinged with the rosy sunset, though thus far down
into the valley the sunshine had vanished long and long ago.
following passage presents imagery of another sort—a beautiful golden morning
as Bartram and little Joe walk toward the kiln.
little boy, all in a tremble, whispered to his father, and begged him to
shut the door of the kiln, so that there might not be so much light; for
that there was something in the man's face which he was afraid to look
at, yet could not look away from. And, indeed, even the lime-burner's dull
and torpid sense began to be impressed by an indescribable something in
that thin, rugged, thoughtful visage, with the grizzled hair hanging wildly
about it, and those deeply-sunken eyes, which gleamed like fires within
the entrance of a mysterious cavern.
issued from the hut, followed by little Joe, who kept fast hold of his
father's hand. The early sunshine was already pouring its gold upon the
mountain-tops; and though the valleys were still in shadow, they smiled
cheerfully in the promise of the bright day that was hastening onward.
The village, completely shut in by hills, which swelled away gently about
it, looked as if it had rested peacefully in the hollow of the great hand
of Providence. Every dwelling was distinctly visible; the little spires
of the two churches pointed upwards, and caught a fore-glimmering of brightness
from the sun-gilt skies upon their gilded weather-cocks. The tavern was
astir, and the figure of the old, smoke-dried stage-agent, cigar in mouth,
was seen beneath the stoop. Old Gray-lock was glorified with a golden cloud
upon his head. Scattered likewise over the breasts of the surrounding mountains,
there were heaps of hoary mist, in fantastic shapes, some of them far down
into the valley, others high up towards the summits and still others, of
the same family of mist or cloud, hovering in the gold radiance of the
upper atmosphere. Stepping from one to another of the clouds that rested
on the hills, and thence to the loftier brotherhood that sailed in air,
it seemed almost as if a mortal man might thus ascend into the heavenly
regions. Earth was so mingled with sky that it was a day-dream to look
Note the many figures of speech
that enliven the passage. Among them are these:
supply that charm of the familiar and homely, which Nature so readily adopts
into a scene like this, the stage-coach was rattling down the mountain-road,
and the driver sounded his horn, while echo caught up the notes, and intertwined
them into a rich and varied and elaborate harmony, of which the original
performer could lay claim to little share. The great hills played a concert
among themselves, each contributing a strain of airy sweetness.
the valleys . . . smiled cheerfully
(term for God).
Old Graylock was glorified
with a golden cloud upon his
of the surrounding mountains (comparison of mountainsides to breasts)
of hoary mist
Hyperbole: it seemed
almost as if a mortal man might thus ascend into the heavenly regions
Inordinate Thirst for
Brand lives uprightly and respects others until the day that he becomes
obsessed with a question: Of all the sins that man commits, which is the
only one that God will not forgive? Researching this question intensifies
his obsession to the point that he fiendishly manipulates others into committing
sin in order to find his answer. In so doing, Brand does the work of the
devil—or, in a sense, becomes a devil. Desire for knowledge is good, but
inordinate desire that cancels morality is evil.
scientists of the Enlightenment, scientists in the first half of the nineteenth
century generally conducted objective research that emphasized reason over
emotions and religious faith. Such objectivity in scientific experimentation
is good. However, any experimentation that goes beyond the bounds of morality
is evil. Ethan Brand, with his "marble heart," reflects the attitude of
scientists who seek answers without regard to the morality of their actions.
Perhaps in "Ethan Brand" Hawthorne—a man of faith who was committed to
the ideals of romanticism, including the importance of the heart and the
imagination—was taking a jab at coldly objective, and sometimes unethical,
Brand’s unholy undertaking hardens his heart; he cares only about the knowledge
he seeks. As a result, he isolates himself from the rest of humanity. At
the end of his search, his alienation gnaws at him, and he returns to Western
Massachusetts to renew his bond with humanity by announcing the result
of his quest. But his listeners regard him as crazed and frightful—a man
to stay away from.
Sin and Its Consequences
Hawthorne focused many of his stories on sin (including the concept of
original sin) and its consequences. For example, his short story "Young
Goodman Brown" and his novel The Scarlet Letter both center on sin
and its moral and psychological consequences. How the characters in these
and other Hawthorne stories, including "Ethan Brand," respond to their
own sins or the sins of others becomes a major issue that drives the plot.
In "Ethan Brand," Bartram's awareness of his own sins links him as a fallen
creature with Ethan Brand and kindles in him memories of the frightening
stories about this night visitor.
own sins rose up within him, and made his memory riotous with a throng
of evil shapes that asserted their kindred with the Master Sin, whatever
it might be, which it was within the scope of man's corrupted nature to
conceive and cherish. They were all of one family; they went to and fro
between his breast and Ethan Brand's, and carried dark greetings from one
to the other.
goes on to describe other characters as fallen creatures as well. The doctor
and Giles, for example, both drink to excess and nearly ruin their lives.
However, the doctor continues to practice medicine effectively, and Giles
carries on as a soap boiler. Neither allows his moral weaknesses to conquer
him totally. Brand, of course, is a special case. He deliberately causes
others to sin and, in so doing, commits what he believes is the Unpardonable
Sin. His diabolical experimentation and his severance of his bond with
humanity reap for him a terrible loneliness and great despair. Ultimately,
he commits suicide.
Bartram remembered the stories which had grown traditionary in reference
to this strange man. . . . Ethan Brand, it was said, had conversed with
Satan himself in the lurid blaze of this very kiln. The legend had been
matter of mirth heretofore but looked grisly now. According to this tale,
before Ethan Brand departed on his search, he had been accustomed to evoke
a fiend from the hot furnace of the lime-kiln, night after night, in order
to confer with him about the Unpardonable Sin; the man and the fiend each
laboring to frame the image of some mode of guilt which could neither be
atoned for nor forgiven.
Brand as a New Faust
many ways, Ethan Brand's motivations and desires resemble those of the
title character in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's great
work, Faust. But Brand is a new Faust in that he willingly condemns
himself to hellfire. Click here to review the study
guide on Faust.
climax of the story occurs when Ethan Brand hurls himself into the kiln
fire. The conclusion, or denouement, begins immediately afterward. Bartram
and little Joe awaken from nightmares to go forth into a sunny day and
discover Brand's remains in the lime kiln.
Is the Unpardonable Sin?
story reports only what Ethan Brand believes to be the Unpardonable Sin,
not what the Bible or the consensus of scholarly research says it is. From
Brand's perspective, it "is a sin that grew within my own breast . . .
[a] sin that grew nowhere else! The sin of an intellect that triumphed
over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed
everything to its own mighty claims! The only sin that deserves a recompense
of immortal agony! " He committed this sin, he believes, when he manipulated
others into iniquity as part of his empirical research and, in so doing,
severed his relationship not only with the rest of humankind but also with
course, for a sin to be unpardonable, the sinner must be unrepentant. Brand
makes known his disposition in this regard when he says, "Freely, were
it to do again, would I incur the guilt."
Does God Save Ethan Brand?
it possible that God saves Ethan Brand even though Brand committed what
he calls the Unpardonable Sin?
in mind that Brand's concept of the Unpardonable Sin is his own. He could
have been using it to cover up his failure to find an unforgivable offense
in others. Moreover, his declaration of unrepentance could merely have
been a show of bravado before the villagers, who doubt his story. Consider
also the following evidence that supports redemption for Brand:
also that the narration presents imagery suggesting that Brand purged his
soul and ascended to heaven. The key passage (highlighted below in red)
describes the morning after Brand hurls himself into the kiln. While Bartram
and little Joe are walking toward the kiln, the narrator reports that
In his alienation, he wins the
sympathy of little Joe, a Christlike child of innocence and purity, as
the following passage indicates: "As the boy followed his father into the
hut, he looked back at the wayfarer, and the tears came into his eyes,
for his tender spirit had an intuition of the bleak and terrible loneliness
in which this man had enveloped himself."
Brand may be mentally unstable
(in law, non compos mentis), as various passages in the story suggest.
If he is mentally incompetent, he would be incapable of freely choosing
between right and wrong or fully consenting to suicide.
He may be remorseful, as words
he speaks before killing himself suggest: "O mankind, whose brotherhood
I have cast off, and trampled thy great heart beneath my feet!"
Old Gray-lock was
glorified with a golden cloud upon his head. Scattered likewise over the
breasts of the surrounding mountains, there were heaps of hoary mist, in
fantastic shapes, some of them far down into the valley, others high up
towards the summits and still others, of the same family of mist or cloud,
hovering in the gold radiance of the upper atmosphere. Stepping
from one to another of the clouds that rested on the hills, and thence
to the loftier brotherhood that sailed in air, it seemed almost as if a
mortal man might thus ascend into the heavenly regions.When Bartram and little Joe
look into the kiln, they see the skeleton of Ethan Brand. Everything in
the kiln is bright white; the marble had been burned into perfect lime.
Within Brand’s rib cage is his heart in the form of pure lime. This physical
transformation could suggest a spiritual transformation in which his soul
has been purged of the stain of sin.
Is a Lime Kiln? What Is Lime?
lime kiln is a type of furnace that burns marble, limestone, or another
material to produce lime, a solid made up of calcium oxide (CaO). If it
is free of impurities, it is white and is called pure lime or quicklime.
When mixed with water, lime turns into a powder, calcium hydroxide—Ca(OH)2.
Lime is used in the production of cement, paper, glass, whitewash, and
agricultural preparations that reduce the acidity of soil.
here to see a picture of lime and read an article on its uses.
Questions and Essay Topics
here to see a picture of a lime kiln.
Discuss circumstances that cause
people today to seek knowledge without regard for moral consequences.
Is Ethan Brand mentally unstable?
Does he really commit the Unpardonable
In the conclusion of the story,
the narrator tells the reader what Bartram sees as he looks into the kiln:
"The marble was all burnt into perfect, snow-white lime. But on its surface,
in the midst of the circle—snow-white too, and thoroughly converted into
lime—lay a human skeleton, in the attitude of a person who, after long
toil, lies down to long repose. Within the ribs—strange to say—was the
shape of a human heart." In the first half of the nineteenth century, would
a common laborer like Bartram have known what a human heart looked like?
Write an essay that compares
and contrasts Ethan Brand with the main character of "Young Goodman Brown,"
another Hawthorne short story. Click here for information
on this story.
Is the traveling diorama showman
mocking Brand when he says, "Ah, Captain, I find it to be a heavy matter
in my show-box—this Unpardonable Sin! By my faith, Captain, it has wearied
my shoulders, this long day, to carry it over the mountain." Explain your
Are there any supernatural forces
at work in the story? Explain your answer.