Like late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century doctors such as Benjamin Rush and Amariah Brigham, Nathaniel Hawthorne recognized the pathogenic potential of excessive religious zeal. In much of his short fiction Hawthorne offers a medical perspective of characters who obsessively find sin either in themselves or others. Yet he was skeptical about a new medical perspective of the human mind that potentially obscured the moral symbolism, or what he referred to as the ““moral signification,”” of apparent mental illness. In his short fiction Hawthorne thus tries to resolve an implicit dialogue between medical and theological views of the mind by fusing the Puritan sensitivity to symbol and moral signification with a keen medical awareness of the dangers of religious enthusiasm and unhealthy obsession with discovering moral signification. His mode of narration ““saneitizes”” the insane search for moral signification exemplified by characters such as Ethan Brand, Roderick Elliston, and the Minister Hooper.
- 2004 by The Regents of the University of California