Document Type


Publication Date


Scholarship Domain(s)

Scholarship of Discovery


August 28, 1826, a landslide in the White Mountains of New Hampshire caused the death of the Samuel Willey family when they left their home for a shelter. The slide split to either side of the house, leaving it intact while burying the family in the shelter. Hawthorne published the event as a short story in the New-England Journal, changing many aspects. Taking such liberties suggests that Hawthorne intended to use the account as fodder for his Romantic agenda: "to present [the] truth under circumstances... of the writer’s own choosing or creation." A close examination of the text reveals that Hawthorne takes the liberties necessary not only to engage his audience, but also to control their responses. He does so by using a variety of narrative techniques.

The most obvious instance of narrative authority in "The Ambitious Guest" is the intrusiveness of the narrator who begins a paragraph with "Let us not suppose." Immediately the narrator has caught the reader as a collaborator in the formation of the story. The reader is also encouraged to participate in interpretation. In "The Ambitious Guest," the omniscient narrator encourages the reader to foretell the ending. The most subtle of Hawthorne’s narrative devices, however, is the diegetic shift in which the focus changes from the narrator to the character of the young man, who was not part of the real tragedy. Hawthorne has made him real by shifting from the words of the narrator looking into the young man’s mind to the very words of the young man framing his future. Hawthorne has no need to employ some of his other Romantic techniques, such as the use of the supernatural or paranormal; instead, he masterfully uses narrative techniques that subtly change reality.