The Hollow of the Three Hills

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Hollow of the Three Hills Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Hollow of the Three Hills. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Born and raised in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a direct descendant of notorious Puritan John Hathorne, a leading judge in the Salem witch trials. After the loss of his father, who died of yellow fever in 1808, Hawthorne moved with his mother and sister to live with relatives. At the age of 17, at his uncle’s insistence, Hawthorne reluctantly attended Bowdoin college and, despite his disinterest in education, graduated in 1825. He then returned to Salem, where he briefly worked as an editor and published several short stories in local magazines, many of which he compiled in his collection Twice-told Tales. In 1836, he met illustrator and transcendentalist Sophia Peabody, to whom he became engaged. In order to raise funds for their wedding, Hawthorne invested in Brook Farm, a Transcendentalist Utopia commune where he spent much of his time shoveling manure. On finding that the endless physical labor left him no time or energy to write, he left the commune less than a year later. In 1850, Hawthorne entered the most lucrative and successful period of his career, publishing three novels and three short story collections within the span of three years. Following this, however, President Franklin Pierce—an old friend and classmate of Hawthorne’s—awarded him the position of United States consul in Liverpool, and it was another seven years before Hawthorne wrote his fourth and final novel, The Marble Faun. In 1863, Hawthorne’s health declined suddenly, and what little he wrote during this time was incoherent. A year later, he died in his sleep at the age of 59.
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Historical Context of The Hollow of the Three Hills

When “The Hollow of the Three Hills” was published in 1830, Transcendentalism had begun to emerge in the Eastern United States. Transcendentalism was a reactionary philosophical movement that arose in response to Unitarianism, a liberal branch of Christianity with an emphasis on rationality. While Transcendentalists did not fully reject the teachings of Unitarianism, they sought to balance out the intellectualism and reason of the movement with spirituality and an emphasis on emotion. Above all, Transcendentalists believed in the intrinsic goodness of humanity and had faith that individuals are at their best when self-reliant. This Christian sensibility is evident in “The Hollow of Three Hills,” as the young woman is tortured by a sense of (arguably religious) guilt over abandoning her family. Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution—a period between the 18th and 19th centuries during which Western societies began to adopt mass manufacturing methods on a large scale—was causing an increased divide between men and women. Where previously work had been largely home-based, the rise in factory production meant more men left the home in order to earn wages, while woman remained behind to oversee unpaid domestic duties. It was during this period that the idea of the “separate spheres,” a patriarchal ideology that suggested woman were biologically predisposed to motherhood and housework, rose to prominence. This notion of gender roles is also present in the story, as the young woman is tortured by shame over abandoning her duties as a wife and mother.

Other Books Related to The Hollow of the Three Hills

“The Hollow of the Three Hills” was among the 36 stories featured in Hawthorne’s collection Twice-told Tales (1837), the majority of which covered similar themes of morality, repentance, and hopelessness. These topics, as well as Hawthorne’s critical view of Transcendentalism, were also prevalent in his longer works of fiction. Perhaps the most notable of these works was The Blithedale Romance (1852), which contained direct parallels to Hawthorne’s time in a Transcendentalist Utopia commune and cast the experience in a negative light. Comparable contemporary authors in the Gothic romance genre include Edgar Allan Poe (“The Tell-Tale Heart,” 1843), whose morbid fiction similarly contradicted Transcendentalist ideals, and Herman Melville (Moby-Dick, 1851), who drew direct inspiration from Hawthorne’s works. Stories that, like “The Hollow of Three Hills,” explore 19th-century gender dynamics using elements of the Gothic include Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847).
Key Facts about The Hollow of the Three Hills
  • Full Title: The Hollow of the Three Hills
  • When Written: 1830
  • Where Written: Salem, Massachusetts
  • When Published: 1830
  • Literary Period: Romanticism
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: A hollow that lies at the base of three hills
  • Climax: The young woman witnesses a vision of her own child’s funeral before dying at the old crone’s feet. 
  • Antagonist: The Old Crone
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for The Hollow of the Three Hills

Book Burner. Hawthorne anonymously published his first novel, Fanshawe, in 1828. But despite the book’s positive reception, it was a commercial failure. Ashamed of his work, Hawthorne burned the unsold copies and refused to acknowledge his authorship of the novel until the day he died. Hawthorne expressed a similar wish to burn the remaining copies of Twice-told Tales when it undersold, but he lacked the funds to do so.

Medical Mystery. At nine years old, Hawthorne sustained an injury while playing “bat and ball” and became bedridden. Though physicians could find nothing wrong with the boy, Hawthorne remained incapacitated for a year, during which he discovered a love of reading.