Ralph Waldo Emerson is the human counterpart of the Great Stone Face as embodied in Ernest. Says Hawthorne in The Old Manse :It was good to meet him in the wood-paths, or sometimes in our avenue, with that pure intellectual gleam diffused about his presence like the garment of a shining one; and he is so quiet, so simple, so without pretension, encountering each man alike as if expecting to receive more than he could impart. But it was impossible to dwell in his vicinity without inhaling, more or less, the mountain atmosphere of his lofty thought, which in the brains of some people, wrought a singular giddiness new truth being a sheady as new wine.It is not hard to identify Andrew Jackson as close kin to Old Blood and Thunder, and Daniel Webster as Old Stony Phiz, the"marvelously gifted statesman"with"always a weary gleam in the deep caverns of his eyes."With modern psychological insight Hawthorne probed the secret motivations in human behavior and the guilt and anxiety that he believed resulted from all sins against humanity, especially those of pride. In his preoccupation with sin he followed the tradition of his Puritan ancestors, but in his concept of the consequences of sin—as either punishment due to lack of humility and overwhelming pride, or regeneration by love and atonement—he deviated radically from the idea of predestination held by his forebears. Hawthorne characterized most of his books as romances, a category of literature not as strictly bound to realistic detail as novels. This freed him to manipulate the atmospheres of his scenes and the actions of his characters in order to represent symbolically the passions, emotions, and anxieties of his characters and to expose “the truth of the human heart” that he believed lies hidden beneath mundane daily life. Hawthorne's emphasis on allegory and symbolism often makes his characters seem shadowy and unreal, but his best characters reveal the emotional and intellectual ambivalence he felt to be inseparable from the Puritan heritage of America.
In discussion bring out the powerful lesson of the story by such questions as:
- What was the Great Stone Face?
- What did young Ernest wish when he gazed at it? What was the story attributed to the Stone Face? What gave the people of the valley the idea that the prophecy was about to come true for the first time?
- Taking the story as a whole, which do you think are the most interesting characters?
- Does Hawthorne intend to make them real flesh-and-blood people?
- Could they stand for certain types of people?
- Look up the words ideal and standard. What is your idea of what you would like to become?
- What was it that helped Ernest form his ideal of what he wished to become? Having an ideal is not enough, we must meditate upon it, act upon it. What do you admire in -different people you know?
- Could you make a composite idea,based upon qualities you admire in different people? Do some people have false ideals?
- About wealth, fame, glory, position, achievement,genius?
- Did Ernest see in Gathergold the likeness of the Stone Face?
- Who did he confide in and how was he proved right? What made people believe General Blood-and-Thunder was their man? Ernest compared the man’s face with the Stone Face. What did he conclude?How was Ernest different from others in the valley?Why did Ernest think the poet was like the Stone Face?What did the poet himself say about his thoughts and poems?What made the poet proclaim Ernest was the Stone Face?
- What do you think the Great Stone Face stands for?
- What is the great lesson for us?
- What do we mean by an ideal How do we form standards?
- Where could we read suggestions about forming the right standards?