The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Important Questions and Answers

In this article you will discover a few important questions and answers from  Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous short story “The Ambitious Guest”. Let’s go through the questions and answers below:

The Ambitious Guest by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Important Questions and Answers

Q. 1. Describe in brief the stranger’s dream in Hawthorne’s “The Ambitious Guest”.

Ans. The stranger in Hawthorne’s, “The Ambitious Guest” is a proud, young man who fits right in with the family that he visits. Once greeted by the warm family, his spirits are lifted, and he makes himself comfortable in their home very quickly.

The stranger was ambitious, and he had a strong desire to be known across the globe. He wanted to make his mark on the world and be remembered for years to come. He felt that his destiny was to be glorified in the future, even if he was not alive by the time that occurred. He had big ambitions for himself that he said: “I shall have built my monument!” His big dream inspired the rest of the family to express their ambitions as well.

Though stranger dreams to leave behind a legacy so everyone will remember his name, he meets his end the very same night and not even a memory of him is left behind. Thus, the stranger’s ambition bears no fruit. The author seems to tell us that 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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Q. 2. Illustrate the use of nature imagery in the short Text “Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

OR, What role does nature teach in this Text?

Ans. In the short Text “Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne nature imagery represents fate. Neither the family nor the guest has any control over what happens to them in the Text, in spite of the ‘ambitious’ plans of the guest. So nature is used in a symbolic sense to illustrate forces beyond our control in life. The fact that the family lives in a very precarious place next to a mountain where there have been many landslides and that a slide can occur at any moment is significant in this Text because at the end, a slide does occur and the family and the guest are killed.

The fact that the family members have not achieved any great accomplishments and the fact that the guest, despite his plans, has not achieved anything all become irrelevant when they are all killed- by an ‘act of God’ out of their control on nature. The irony of the Text is that in spite of his plans, no one remembers the guest, but they do remember the family members by the little tokens they left behind. So nature is used in a symbolic sense to illustrate forces beyond our control in life.

Q. 3. How is the family changed by the guest’s arrival in “The Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

Ans. In the short Text “Ambitious Guest” Hawthorne deliberately presents the family as being very happy and contented together, in spite of the storm outside and the threatening mountain that looms over them. Hawthorne describes the faces of the father and mother had a sober gladness; the children laughed; the eldest daughter was the image of Happiness at seventeen; and the aged grandmother, who sat knitting in the warmest place, was the image of Happiness grown old. They had found the ‘herb, heartsease’, in the bleakest spot of all New England.

All of the family are presented as being perfectly contented with their lot. However, the arrival of the guest with his wide and far- ranging ambitions changes of all of this. He causes each of the family in turn to consider how they will be remembered and what acts will commemorate their life. An important quote comes just before the landslide that kills them all: “Old and young, we dream of graves and monuments”, murmured the stranger youth.

The arrival of the guest therefore causes the family members to become unhappy with their lot in life and to begin to consider what their life amounts to. The irony is of course that by leaving their house, the place of their contentment, they actually all die.

Q.4. What was the ideal idea that they have, both of the ambitious guest and the family’s member?

Ans. Both the family members and the guest wish for their ideals. The guest, the young man, wishes that he will accomplish great things in his life. So far, he has not reached his destiny, but he is young, and has hope that in the future, he will make something of himself. The more the discussion continues, the more the father and grandmother think about things that they, too, wish they had, or had done. Meanwhile, the storm outside is getting worse and worse.

The grandmother begins talking about her death, and that she wants her family to let her corpse look in a mirror when she dies so she can see herself strange things like this. Even though the family pretends to be calm and feel safe, the storm raging outside is a stark contrast to their illusion of safety. Finally, there is a huge rock slide, the people run outside, and are killed. If they had remained inside, they would have been saved because the house was not destroyed. None of them is saved and years later when people are looking at the ruins, there is no evidence of anyone and they are not even sure whether or not there ‘may’ have been a guest that night. So the young man goes into eternity in obscurity.

Q.5. Why is the Text titled “The Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

Ans. Hawthorne’s Text is entitled “The Ambitious Guest” because the central theme of the work is ambition. The title of the Text focuses on the disturbing element: ambition. The guest’s ambition is equated with his solitariness, his wandering, and his separation from the community of feeling enjoyed by the family.

The very idea that the stranger was out wandering in the most difficult weather conditions, creates a contrast with the family who is nestled in their cottage. The irony of the Text is that both the family and the guest end up with the same fate.

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.

Q.6. What are the symbols in “The Ambitious Guest”?

Ans. In the short Text “Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, there are quite a few symbols. First, the family, mountain folk, live in the Notch, on a rock face. The mountain and the rock, at the close of the Text, are symbolic not only of the power of nature, but also become, ironically, the monument, the grave, and the headstones for the entire family and the Ambitious Guest. The eldest daughter is named Happiness and the old grandmother is Happiness grown old, symbolic of the simplicity and peace present in the house and the women folk prior to the ambitious wishes brought on by the guest. A heavy footstep is heard outside the door, symbolic of Death that will shortly beckon all those within the house. The fire, fed with heart’s ease, metaphorically, is the only place the family is safe and comforted, yet the family flees when ‘The Slide’ arrives.

Literally, the slide is the falling rock which will take them to their death. Metaphorically (symbolically), ‘The Slide’ is their slide from grace, from their peaceful existence to one of hopes and grandeur that could only lead to their spiritual downfall as they are simple, content folk unlike their guest. Ironically the young, refined and educated guest gets what he wishes for a monument over him at his demise.

Yet, paradoxically, when the Ambitious Guest says, “Then let Death come! I shall have built my monument”, he does not realize death is so near nor will he ever be remembered or even known for the accomplishments he wishes to achieve.

Q.7. What is the conflict in the Text “The Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

Ans. In the short Text “Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, there are quite a few Conflicts:

  1. Security vs. Unknown;
  2. Complacency vs. Ambition and
  3. Fate vs. Choice.

The cottage itself poses a conflict, it represents security vs. the unknown. The family is never quite sure whether their house will remain secure in its position. It sits at the base of a mountain where rocks and stones tumble towards it constantly. The family lives a complacent, quiet, life in the cottage as compared to the stranger, the guest who seeks adventure and challenge. The guest’s attitude regarding how one should live life, and the attitudes of the family members are opposite from each other.

The ultimate conflict is whether we control our fate or destiny or is there really an element of choice involved in when death occurs. When the family must decide whether they should remain in the small house once the storm begins to intensify and they hear sounds of the mountain collapsing, are they choosing their own destiny or was it fate.

Influenced by the talk of the ambitious guest, the family chooses to flee the cottage and end up getting hit by the crumbling mountain, while the cottage remains untouched by the disaster.

Q.8. Criticize the characters in “The Ambitious Guest” and what are the lessons we can get in that Text?

Ans. In the short Text “Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the characters are nameless and this is purposeful. It illustrates that all humans have a common fate: death.

The stranger speaks of ambition and the glory that awaits him and possibly, the family. This could be seen as referring to the glory of Heaven, but I think he refers to the glory awaiting in life on Earth. A hopeful, wandering dreamer. Ambition is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it criticized completely in this Text. There is, however, a subtle statement that ambition can lead to isolation. While they talk about ambition, the stranger says “it is our nature to desire a monument, be it slate or marble, or a pillar of granite, or a glorious memory in the universal heart of man”. It is important to note that he calls it a monument, rather than a memorial. The father contemplates this, but is content with a slate stone rather than a marble one. Even the grandmother worries how she’ll look in her coffin. However, the daughter says it is nice enough to sit by the fire and be contented even though they are the only ones thinking of each other.

They are all contemplating death, how they will be remembered and who will remember them. There is a camaraderie in sharing dreams. But it is not ambition that unites them: it is the camaraderie itself. The irony is that they left the safest spot, which was the comfortable anonymity in their home surrounding the hearth.

The young stranger, full of ambition, comes to the door looking melancholy. He is lonely and isolated from the world – until he engages in conversation with the inviting family. His mood changes to cheerful. It is not because he finally has an audience to hear his hopes and dreams although this is probably what he thinks. It is because he is in the company of good people. He is not alone. The irony is that what makes him happy is to be in the company of these kind and anonymous people. Yet, he goes on about ambition and fame- seemingly with hope and glory in mind, but it is selfish nonetheless. His isolation, and quest for ambition has always kept him moving. wandering for whatever glory might happen to him. There are many elements of foreshadowing, mostly coming from nature: the wailing winds and so on.

Another quote: “Is not the kindred of a common fate a closer tie than that of birth?” In the end, their common fate, burial under the avalanche, is what they are remembered for. They are not remembered for their ambition or what they achieved, but that they died in anonymity. They have no grave stones or monuments. They are like the sailors who die at sea. But Hawthorne does end by saying “Poets have sung their fate”. Not just them particularly, but all who’ve lead simple, meaningful lives. The smoke billowing from the chimney and the seats still warm around the fire are their grave stones. This scene is a much more warm and vital memorial than a cold stone.

Q.9. What is the theme and purpose of the Text “The Ambitious Guest”?

Ans. The Text, “The Ambitious Guest” is a fable about the purpose of life, the vanity of earthly greatness, ambition, pride. The guest has lofty ambitions for his life, not because he wants to improve mankind, but because he wants to be remembered. Ironically, the reader discovers that he has really done nothing remarkable and yet, he makes comments that imply that the family with which he is visiting is wasting their lives. The guest is a wanderer and has no connection to humankind whereas the family, although perhaps not doing anything remarkable to ensure that they are remembered when they pass on, nevertheless are in community with each other. They enjoy each other’s company, they like to sit by the fire.

The major irony of the Text occurs when they are all destroyed by the landslide, yet nothing remains of the ambitious guest. What does remain are small, poignant tokens of the family that used to live in the house. These tokens leave the reader to ponder what is really important in life – living it while you can, doing something to improve the lives of those left behind, or going around telling people how great you are and how insignificant everyone else is.

Q.10. In the Text “The Ambitious Guest” who is the ambitious guest? What could he want?

Ans. In the short Text “Ambitious Guest” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the ambitious guest, as described by the author is “of a proud, yet gentle spirit–haughty and reserved among the rich and great; but ever ready to stoop his head to the lowly cottage door, and be like a brother or a son at the poor man’s fireside”. The author also tells us that the young man is motivated by ambition, to somehow be remembered for something important someday.

The secret of the young man’s character was a high and abstracted ambition. He could have borne to live an undistinguished life, but not to be forgotten in the grave. Yearning desire had been transformed to hope; and hope, long cherished, had become like certainty, that, obscurely as he journeyed now, a glory was to beam on all his pathway,- though not, perhaps, while he was treading it.

As for what the young man wants when he comes upon the family’s home, he says only that he is headed to Burlington, Vermont, and has not made it as far as he had hoped by nightfall, for “a pedestrian lingers along a road such as this”.

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