- Volume 16 Issue 4
Nathaniel Hawthorne seems to realize the reader's role in bringing his creation of fiction to completion. Almost all of Hawthorne's prefaces may be considered in terms of their contribution to the writer's narrative strategy. When he refers to the audience in the prefatory essay, "The Custom-House" and other prefaces to his major works as "the Reader," Hawthorne is establishing a mutual complicity that will continue throughout the following narratives. According to this rhetorical alliance, the writer's obligation is to get the story into the reader's imagination by any means possible, while the reader's share is to believe the story as much as possible while it is being told. The ultimate issue is thus not whether any event actually happened as Hawthorne reports it but whether readers are willing to grant the event credence while they are reading. Hawthorne's relationship with his audience is not congenial. In his prefaces, Hawthorne sometimes reveals a narrator who evades a fixed identity. The introduction of an unreliable narrator helps illuminate the unresolved, elusive ambiguity in Hawthorne's stories. Hawthorne seeks to make his narrative ambiguous frequently utilizing the very same indeterminacy so often cherished by poststructuralists. No critical term may be more firmly associated with the works of Hawthorne than ambiguity. Looking for new readers with more fresh eyes, Hawthorne's narratives always remain open to reinterpretation. After all, Hawthorne's prefaces (sometimes including unreliable narrators) help him become one of the most frustrating and fascinating novelists.