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Earth's Holocaust (From "Mosses from an Old Manse")   By: (1804-1864)

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Nathaniel Hawthorne, a prominent figure in American literature, showcases his unique storytelling abilities in his collection of short stories titled "Mosses from an Old Manse." Among the captivating tales within this anthology, one particular story that stands out is "Earth's Holocaust."

Set in a dystopian future, "Earth's Holocaust" delves into a thought-provoking exploration of humanity's destructive nature and its potential for redemption. Hawthorne's masterful prose conjures vivid imagery, immersing readers in a desolate landscape where society has reached its breaking point. The narration opens with a group of people, seemingly representing different societal factions, congregating to conduct a ritualistic bonfire, symbolizing the eradication of all earthly objects—a cleansing fire to rid the world of its collective sins.

Through his characters, Hawthorne artfully depicts various perspectives on the value of material possessions. Each person carries an item they deem most precious, believing it holds some inherent significance. As the bonfire builds, tensions rise, leading to intense debate, where each participant passionately argues for the preservation or destruction of their cherished belongings. Through these interactions, Hawthorne reveals the inherent complexities of human desires and attachment to earthly belongings, questioning whether such attachments define or enslave us.

As the flames climb higher, the story takes an unexpected turn. A young maiden emerges, unwavering in her refusal to part with her cherished book—a symbol of knowledge and enlightenment. This act of defiance introduces a significant shift in the narrative, challenging the prevailing belief that salvation lies in total renunciation of worldly possessions. Hawthorne skillfully presents a contrasting perspective—one that emphasizes the importance of preserving intellectual and cultural riches rather than surrendering them to the flames.

"Earth's Holocaust" serves as a cautionary tale, reminding readers of the precarious balance between destruction and progress. In this thought-provoking story, Hawthorne provokes reflection on the consequences of surrendering to collective fanaticism or blind adherence to societal norms. He encourages readers to question the notions of cultural erasure, the sanctity of traditions, and the dangers of radical ideologies.

While "Earth's Holocaust" masterfully examines complex themes and ideas, some readers may find the narrative pace slower than they prefer in a short story. Hawthorne's elaborate descriptions, while lending richness to the setting and atmosphere, may occasionally detract from the pacing of the plot. Nevertheless, those who appreciate Hawthorne's lyrical writing style and philosophical musings will find this thought-provoking tale to be a valuable addition to their literary collection.

In conclusion, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Earth's Holocaust" offers a captivating and insightful journey into the depths of human nature, exploring themes of destruction, redemption, and the value of intellectual pursuits. Through its characters and thought-provoking narrative, this impactful short story challenges readers to examine their own beliefs and actions, ultimately leaving them with a lingering sense of reflection long after the final page.

First Page:


By Nathaniel Hawthorne


Once upon a time but whether in the time past or time to come is a matter of little or no moment this wide world had become so overburdened with an accumulation of worn out trumpery, that the inhabitants determined to rid themselves of it by a general bonfire. The site fixed upon at the representation of the insurance companies, and as being as central a spot as any other on the globe, was one of the broadest prairies of the West, where no human habitation would be endangered by the flames, and where a vast assemblage of spectators might commodiously admire the show. Having a taste for sights of this kind, and imagining, likewise, that the illumination of the bonfire might reveal some profundity of moral truth heretofore hidden in mist or darkness, I made it convenient to journey thither and be present. At my arrival, although the heap of condemned rubbish was as yet comparatively small, the torch had already been applied. Amid that boundless plain, in the dusk of the evening, like a far off star alone in the firmament, there was merely visible one tremulous gleam, whence none could have anticipated so fierce a blaze as was destined to ensue. With every moment, however, there came foot travellers, women holding up their aprons, men on horseback, wheelbarrows, lumbering baggage wagons, and other vehicles, great and small, and from far and near, laden with articles that were judged fit for nothing but to be burned... Continue reading book >>

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