Posted in Short Stories

Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Ambitious Guest


Deal Me In 2020 – Week 32

One September night, a family had gathered round their hearth, and piled it high with the driftwood of mountain streams, the dry cones of the pine, and the splintered ruins of great trees that had come crashing down the precipice. Up the chimney roared the fire, and brightened the room with its broad blaze. 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.

What’s not to love about this opening paragraph and what’s not to love about Nathaniel Hawthorne’s cozy little story “The Ambitious Guest” with a fatalistic mountain backdrop?


Every Hawthorne story I’ve read this year seems to be my favorite Hawthorne story – until I read the next one. It’s the same with this one. I would say that this one will be difficult to top but I’ve heard really good things about “Roger Malvin’s Burial” and that one is still somewhere “on deck”.

The above mentioned cozy family gathering is set in a tavern/inn and is interrupted by a guest who is in no way pompous but in every way likable even as he discusses all of his ambitions with the family. He elaborates on the American Dream and, for better or worse, one realizes how uniquely American this type of Dream is.

Then there’s the mountain that this tavern/inn is built against – a uniquely American “mountain”.

There are lots of good Hawthorne stories to read and they all are as timely today as they were approximately 200 years ago but I highly recommend this one. It’s included in a Hawthorne collection The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories. I read it when I selected the Four of Clubs for Week 32 of my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

2 thoughts on “Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Ambitious Guest

  1. I totally get you when you say each Hawthorne story you read is your favorite… until the next one. Roger Malvin’s burial was a good read and I look forward to hearing what you think of that one too. I also agree that the intro paragraph you quote is wonderful, maybe even approaching….perfection.

    1. When I read paragraphs like that I always wonder “Where did that come from?” Plain old genius and talent I guess. I’m looking forward to reading Roger Malvin’s Burial.

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