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Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Ethan Brand".


The lime-burner Bartram is visited by his long-lost predecessor Ethan Brand. Brand set off eighteen years ago to search for the Unpardonable Sin. He tells Bartram that he has come back because his search has been successfully finished. When questioned what the Unpardonable sin was, Brand points at his own heart: "The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to his own mighty claims." The Unpardonable Sin, the only crime for which Heaven affords no mercy, is the pride growing in one's own heart.

The village inhabitants gather to see Ethan Brand. They are wretched people manifesting various vices, but Brand's sin remains the greatest of all. A man whose daughter got lost appears. The man keeps on wondering around and asking for her. The narrator explains that the lost daughter is "Esther of our tale, the very girl whom [...] Ethan Brand had made the subject of a psychological experiment, and wasted [...] her soul, in the process." An old dog, on seeing Brand, suddenly begins to run round after his tail. His effort is useless, so as Brand's effort given to the search was. Brand recognizes the analogy with his terrible laugh.

Brand sends Bartram to bed and remains alone at the kiln. Looking into the kiln resembling the mouth of hell, he prays that the Unpardonable Sin might never be revealed to him. His vast intellectual development disturbed the counterpoise between his mind and heart. He was making people to his puppets, driving them to such degrees of crime as were demanded for his study. Now he can "enjoy" the fruit of his life's labour, he had produced the Unpardonable Sin. He cries: "Come, deadly element of Fire, henceforth my familiar friend," and with his last laughter he leaps into the kiln..

The next morning Bartram opens the kiln. The marble is all burnt into perfect snow-white lime. There is also a human skeleton, and within the ribs there is the shape of a human heart, as if Brand's heart was made of marble.



(from Portable Hawthorne)

- the story used to be regarded as a malicious portrait of Herman Melville, in fact it was developed from entries made in Hawthorne's notebooks and finished before his first meeting with Melville

- based on the tendencies that Hawthorne found and feared in himself

- Ethan Brand persisted in his intellectual pride to the point of violating the sanctity of other hearts, so he became guilty of the unpardonable sin


  • Author

    Hawthorne, Nathaniel. (1804 - 1864).
  • Full Title

    "Ethan Brand—A Chapter from an Abortive Romance".
  • First Published

  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Ethan Brand". (1850). In: The Portable Hawthorne. Ed. Malcolm Cowley. New York: The Viking Press, 1974.

Cowley, Malcolm, ed. The Portable Hawthorne. New York: The Viking Press, 1974.


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