Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Celestial Railroad”

Nh_celestial_railroad

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Celestial Railroad” is a long satiric allegory that is effective as a result of a number of factors including its style, which is serious rather comical or colloquial. In the story, Hawthorne mocks polite society with lines like, “there was much pleasant conversation about the news of the day, topics of business and politics…,” mocks religious people with lines like, “before our talk on the subject came to a conclusion we were rushing by the place where Christian’s burden fell from his shoulders at the site of the Cross,” and mocks the contents of the Bible itself with lines like, “I perceived that we must now be within a few miles of the Valley of the Shadow of Death… It was gratifying, otherwise, to observe how much care is taken to dispel the everlasting gloom and supply the defect of cheerful sunshine.”

The standard that Hawthorne is trying to hold is that of the scathing satire of, of that time, contemporary society that he likely saw as shallow and self-indulgent. The only aspect of the story that diminishes the story’s effectiveness to some degree is the last sentence, where Hawthorne reveals that this was nothing but a dream. The fact that the trip on the celestial railroad is invalidated by the unreliable narrator seems like a copout but perhaps it is unfair to demand Kafka-esque modernity from Hawthorne, given that he published “The Celestial Railroad” in 1843, almost 50 years before “The Metamorphosis.”

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