Significance of the Title The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The title of the Text, “The Ambitious Guest” focuses on the disturbing element: ambition, the central theme of Hawthorne’s Text. In this Text, the guest’s ambition is equated with his solitariness, his wandering, and his separation from the community of feeling enjoyed by the family. Ambition, in itself, is abstract. It seems to have nothing to do with the way this family lives; indeed, as the mother remarks, she feels a sense of strangeness when the family begins to talk in the guest’s terms about what it wants as opposed to what it already has.

Significance of the Title The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The eldest daughter is aware of the guest’s disturbing ideas when she replies, “It is better to sit here by this fire… and be comfortable and contented, though nobody thinks about us.” The guest, on the other hand, thinks of “Earthy Immortality,” as the narrator puts it. The guest rejects her acceptance of the status quo in favour of a sense of destiny. He ignores, however, the signs of fate that Nathaniel Hawthorne infuses into the sounds of nature: “There was a wail along the road as if a funeral were passing.” What the family has forsaken, under the temporary influence of the guest, is its own attunement to the world.

By not naming his characters, Hawthorne gives his Text a universal dimension. It is about the family, about ambition, and about how human beings both place themselves in an abstract themselves from the world at large. As the narrator remarks of the family in this Text,

“Though they dwelt in such a solitude, these people held daily converse with the world.”

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The Ambitious Guest” is a fable, but it is also a folktale with its origins, the narrator implies, in fact-not infancy or in abstractions. Of the family, for example, the narrator comments:

“All had left separate tokens, by which those who had known the family were made to shed a tear for each. Who has not heard their name?”

They have become the subject of poets, the narrator notes, so that their fate becomes everyone’s fate, human fate-or, as the narrator puts it earlier in the Text while commenting on the affinity of the family for the guest,

“Is not the kindred of a common fate a closer tie than that of birth”?

The outcome seems to suggest that it is man’s ambition, his will to stay alive, that ends up destroying him. Presumably, the characters would have made a better choice in staying put in the house, thus accepting the possibility of death, instead of trying to escape from it. Few of Hawthorne’s other works imply that this fatalistic thinking makes any sense. His usual theme is the opposite: that man does make moral choices and does have it within his power to decide his future, though Hawthorne often expresses the idea negatively, showing that man is usually destroyed by the immoral paths he decides to take.

The irony of the Text is that both the family and the guest end up with the same fate. Both the host family and the guest become caught up in their dreams for the future and are then killed due to unpredictable forces present in the outside world. They have no way of knowing, of course, that had they not rushed out from the safety of their dwelling, the landslide would not have buried them.

Thus, in “The Ambitious Guest” the guest himself is portrayed as having “a high and abstracted ambition”. A solitary wanderer, his dreams of making his mark are just that-dreams, reveries removed from the concreteness of domestic life as it is evoked at the beginning of the Text, and hence the title is ironically apt and significant.

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