"I am not like other historians": Historical revision in Nathaniel Hawthorne's literature for children

James G Murphy, Fordham University


American history in the Jacksonian period was presented as a celebration and endorsement of the young Republic. The nation's history was used to establish and reinforce a unique American character for American children. Children's literature, history, and public education functioned together as methods of socialization. In particular, children's history was essentially propaganda, presenting a false view of America and her history for social and political ends. Nathaniel Hawthorne revised history for the child-audience in True Stories from History and Biography. The historical sketches in True Stories embody Hawthorne's countervailing view of American history and Jacksonian society and attack the prevalent commemorative history. Throughout The Whole History of Grandfather's Chair, the first unit of True Stories, Hawthorne attacks the militarism of romantic history and reverses the national typology that celebrated the Puritans as originators of democracy and religious liberty in America. He demonstrates that the Puritans' contribution to America's independence, a long-standing opposition to England, was a product of bigotry and xenophobia. True Stories also subverts the heroic view of the American Revolution. In his history, Hawthorne illustrates the mob violence of revolutionary Boston, sympathizes with the Tories, and undermines the hero-worship accorded the founding fathers. Hawthorne not only subverts commemorative history in these sketches, but also criticizes Jacksonian society. The object of the standard histories was to justify and support a militant, chauvinistic nationalism. By countering the history, he opposes the cultural assumptions of the era. Moreover, the treatment of commemorative history in True Stories is consistent with Hawthorne's historical works for adults. In his adult literature, Hawthorne uses irony to attack specific rhetorical stances of the nationalistic histories and thereby subverts their cultural views. Hawthorne's historical works reveal that he was deeply engaged in the cultural life of the Jacksonian era. His consistent response to the culture that produced the nationalistic histories was to illustrate the falsity of their vision of America and her past, as well as to attack the rhetoric employed to support that false vision.

Subject Area

American literature|American history

Recommended Citation

Murphy, James G, ""I am not like other historians": Historical revision in Nathaniel Hawthorne's literature for children" (1995). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9530032.