Easy Summary and Analysis of The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The very essence of “The Ambitious Guest,” Hawthorne’s riveting short story, lies in the layers of ambition, fate, and grief against the backdrop of a loathed and isolated mountainous area. In this story, he makes a deep research on the topic of human desires and the overall forces of nature that shape our existence.

Easy Summary and Analysis of The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Summary of The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne

On one fateful, stormy night, a young traveller stops at the home of a content and kind family living near a deep, narrow mountain pass called a notch. The stranger needs a place to rest and asks the family for accommodations. They commonly assist travellers in this way; plus, this one makes great conversation, so he is welcomed for the night. Throughout the evening they talk, but the conversation is soon interrupted, first by sounds of a wagon, and later by something much worse. The family’s home is located in a rather dangerous spot below the mountain; however, falling rocks happen regularly and have never caused any harm. Besides, they assure their guest that, in the event of a real catastrophe, they have a designated ‘sure place’ in which to seek shelter. As they continue to chat late into the evening, the ambitious young man admits that he has yet to accomplish anything of significance but says he hopes he will have ‘achieved his destiny’ before his death. He has big ambitions for himself, too. He goes on to say, “I shall have built my monument!” To this, the father expresses his wish to leave a greater legacy – one with a larger home in a nicer place. The other family members agree, and begin to chime in with their deepest desires, hones and wishes. All of a sudden, the sound of a large avalanche begins to shake the house. In utter fear, and in unison they all shout, “The Slide! The Slide!” Without a second thought, they rush out of the house for their ‘safe place’. Ironically, they are all swept up in the rock slide and killed, though, the house goes untouched. They are never seen again.

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Analysis of The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This Text portrays the author’s view of ambition. He sees ambition as futile, as fate plays a more important role than human choice and effort. The convictions of the guest were all for naught as he died an unknown person, so much so that none of the living even knew whether he was there at all. The humility of the family is juxtaposed with the ambition and certainty of the traveler, though they both meet the same fate.

The Text begins with a feeling of ease, comfort, and tranquility. A loving family sitting together, happy in their cottage, warm and cozy even though the wind was sharp, and the winter was brisk. They lived in a dangerous spot, yet they felt safe and happy.

A ‘Notch’ is a mountain pass, and in this case, it is the Crawford Notch in New Hampshire. This route is well-traveled for trade and is referred to as an ‘artery’ by the author. In the same way that an artery carries blood in the human body, and hence supports life, the Crawford pass is a route that supports the livelihood of the people and the economy. The family’s tavern may be inhabited by a lorry driver (teamster), a lone traveler, or anyone in between.

That evening, they stood as if to welcome someone whose fate was linked with theirs. This is our first clue from the author that something important will take place involving them all. The man is the titular character, the ambitious guest. Soon, a big rock fell off the mountain, and here the scene is set of the family who is used to the falling rocks and is ready with substitute shelter.

Now, the stranger does not remain strange at all. He allows himself to speak with honesty and with conviction. He speaks of his ambition to not be forgotten, though his life may be under the radar, it should not remain so after his death. He expressed that he wanted to leave a bright path for the future to look back upon and give him the recognition deserved to him.

The family in the cottage practice humility, and they are content in the life they live. But once this impassioned guest fell into their company, they began bringing forth their own ambitions. The father’s desire for a gravestone led the guest to exclaim that wanting a monument to oneself is intrinsically human. This shows us that the guest saw the family as kindred spirits and believed them to be of the same mind as him. This was further affirmed by the natural flow of conversation and the emotions that he was willing to express to them.

The Text has many little glimpses into a future that the characters desire. The father wants a farm, the guest wants fame, the young girl wants love. The glimpses into the future bring about a feeling of anticipation, a plan, a desire for something more than just living in a cottage for years on end. This anticipation is swiftly broken by the sudden deluge of rocks. The people rush out of the house to save themselves, but in actuality, they rush out to their deaths.

The mountain kept its agreement with the family, their house remained intact. The family, no longer content with their life in the Notch, rushed out to have a chance at a future but were buried in rubble instead. The Slide did not touch their house and destroyed everything around it instead. And finally, their guest, with his lofty dreams and ideals, met the same fate as the humble family that took him in.

This family had run the tavern for a long time, and there were people far and wide who knew them and mourned them. Their lives and demise became well known across the mountains, and poems have been written of their sorry fate. As for the guest, his existence in that room is doubted, and his assumption came true. He did die that night and, save for the family, nobody else knew he was there, and nobody felt the loss of his presence. The ambitious received nothing, and the untroubled family was given the recognition he desired.

Ambition bears no fruit; the author seems to tell us. No earthly immortality can be guaranteed from our desires nor our actions. Fate holds the threads of our lives and our deaths, and our ambition is meaningless in the face of fate.

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