Parasitic and symbiotic character relationships in the novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Throughout his completed novels, Nathaniel Hawthorne employs a unique set of character relationships which fall into two divisions: either parasitic or symbiotic in nature. The parasitic relationship occurs between two characters, each having a clearly defined role of host or parasite. This particular bond is distinguished by the parasite who leeches from and often destroys the host. The symbiotic pairing exists between two characters when a reciprocal exchange of services occurs so that both characters profit and depend upon each other for a meaningful existence.

These two relationships differ significantly in motivation and effect. Parasitism concerns the parasite's possession of a special power over the host and the exercise of that power with a cold, obsessive intent to fulfill a particular, selfish need. Symbiosis presupposes a relationship between two characters who willingly render reciprocal services to each other. These characters' basic motivation represents a need to relate fully to themselves and other characters. Thus, the parasitic bond is detrimental to both characters, while the symbiotic contact offers some benefit to the symbiants.

Nathaniel Hawthorne employs these two character relationships in order to give his characters significant dimensions in their personalities. Once these characters bond together, their potentiality as actual individuals increases. Through these relationships they can fully relate to humanity by attaining self-realization and an undenying love for the universal human community.