Literary Review of “The Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne Though the family lived a simple yet proud life in the Notch of the White Hills, they were not immune to the vanity the stranger brought to their cozy cottage they caught his disease of fame and paid dearly. The story began on a cold September night in a dangerous area in New England as a cheerful family set around their hearth to enjoy their solitude of their inner circle. As the wind roared outside, a stranger, a young man came to their door on his way to Vermont and made his self at home with this simple family. The stranger shared his dreams of wanting to make his mark on the world, and family followed suit from the oldest Grandmother to the youngest of the children. As the family and the stranger told their tales Hawthorne gave many clues of the price, they would pay for their ambitions.


In the ambitious guest, Hawthorne presents seven characters, the ambitious guest, Mother, Father, Eldest daughter, Aged grandmother, and younger children. All of the characters besides The Ambitious guest are somewhat flat characters, for the most part happy but have moments of worry about what the future holds for them, which is part of the Hawthorne’s foreshadowing. Critic Sonya Solomonovich described “the way they grow despondent and then cheerful again in their domestic bliss as almost comical”. (Solomonovich, 2012, p2) The protagonist The Ambitious Guest is also a flat character. “The Ambitious Guest” is more about the theme and irony of the evening than of the actual characters.

Point of View and Plot

Hawthorne tells the story of “The Ambitious Guest” from third person omniscient. The narrator tells readers what is happening in each characters mind and heart. Sonya Solomonovich describes the plot as deceptively simple in her review on January 27, 2012. A simple family living in the dangerous Notch of the While Hills is sitting around their hearth on a cold September evening with howling winds outside when a stranger enters their cottage. A young man traveling to Vermont, the warm fire and cheerful faces drew the stranger to the cottage. The young man greeted with a warm welcome, which compelled him to disclose his dreams to the family. Then the reader learns why it is that the guest is ambitious. He does not wish to lure the young maiden away (or at least that is not said openly), but rather he wishes to leave some testament to his life when he passes on.

As if he is the bearer of an infectious disease, his revelation encourages the members of the family to admit that they too suffer from ambition. Hawthorne would have the reader recognize, vanity. From the father who wants to have a farm and be a man of renown to the young sons to even the grandmother who wants to be sure that she looks just right in her coffin, even to the point of her cap being "set right." (Gregory, 2012 p 1) Then the neighbor as the father called the White Hills started to slide, the family fled for shelter. The next morning the cottage still stood, but the shelter was covered.

Setting and Symbolism

The story “The Ambitious Guest” takes place during September during the 1800’s in a cottage in the Notch of the White Hills in New England. Hawthorne uses symbolism throughout “The Ambitious Guest” one of the most obvious is the mountain that is symbolic of many things; one would be life and the constant struggle to the top. The mountain and the avalanches are symbolic of the hardship and consequences of the journey to make it to the top to reach our full potentials. The fact that Hawthorn did not give the characters names is symbolic of futures cut short and ambitions never met. The stage coach outside, the wind blowing, and the oldest daughter thinking the men are calling the father by name is symbolic of the upcoming ride to his final resting place. Many statements and mood changes by the characters are symbolic of the impending dooming or fate of the characters.

Style and Tone

Hawthorne’s style is poetic, and his tone is one of caution or warning. According to Steve Gregory in his review of “The Ambitious Guest” in January 2012, “Hawthorne was a devout man, and as such God was real to him. And, so therefore, was God’s wrath. Vanity and ego, her disguised as ambition, are a sin, and thus must be punished.” (Gregory, 2012 p2) Hawthorne used foreshadowing and warning several times in the story.

Theme and Irony

One of the themes of “The Ambitious Guest” is ambition, and how it shapes our destiny. The story shows how the choices people make shape their lives, and that people are in control of their own destinies. Another theme is how people feel contentment until they influenced by another’s ambition. This influence often changes the choices people make and can take them out of their comfort zone. In the case of this family, the influence of the stranger may have caused their deaths when they fled their cottage that they had found contentment and safety in before. The story had three ironies first one, the ambitious guest was killed by the slide and no body knows who he is. Hawthorne writes, “He could have borne to live an undistinguished life, but not to be forgotten in the grave. Yearning desire had been transformed to hope; and hope, long cherished, had become like certainty, that, obscurely as he journeyed now, a glory was to beam on all his pathway- though not, perhaps, while he was treading it.

But when posterity should gaze back into the gloom of what was now the present, they would trace the brightness of his footsteps, brightening as meaner glories faded, and confess that a gifted one had passed from his cradle to his tomb with none to recognize him.”(Hawthorne 1845 p4) The guest wants to be famous, and wants to leave his monument so everyone would know him after his death. Ironically, the ambitious guest died in the slide, before anyone knew who he was, his name, or any of his plans. . The second one, the Grandmother wants to be neat after she died and had already picked out her funeral clothes. The things she prepared for her death had no use because she died in the slide. The third iron, the common family was famous and become legendary figures while the ambitious guest been unknown. Before the arrival of the ambitious guest they were content with their lives in the cottage, but their deaths made them famous.

The guest was ambitious, and wanted fame, but his death left him nameless and unknown. “The Ambitious Guest” published in 1835, was based on a true story that happened in Hawthorne’s time, a landslide really did kill an entire family on August 28, 1926. Ambition is necessary for people to reach their full potential. No one should follow another ones ambition just because it makes him or her feel less content. Make choices out of one’s own desire, not a contagious virus that like influenza can take a life.