Artists of the Romantic Period tried to capture these ideals in their work. They rejected the rationalism and rules-driven orderliness that characterized the Neoclassical style of the Enlightenment. Like Baroque artists , Romantic artists hoped to inspire an emotional response in those who viewed their art; but instead of seeking to inspire faith as their predecesors had, most sought to evoke a nostalgic yearning for rural, pastoral life, the stirrings of life’s mysteries, and a sense of the power and grandeur of nature. Art of this period also depicted the romantic ideal of nationalism, but for reasons of length, we will focus on landscapes in this post.
Separate from his literary production, Hawthorne wrote expansively on literary theory and criticism. His theories exemplify the Romantic spirit in American letters at mid-century. He espoused the conviction that objects can hold significance deeper than their apparent meaning, and that the symbolic nature of reality was the most fertile ground for literature. In his short stories especially, Hawthorne explored the complex system of meanings and sensations that shift in and out of a person’s consciousness. Throughout his writings, one gets a sense of darkness, if not outright pessimism. There is the sense of not fully understanding the world, of not getting the entire picture no matter how hard one tries. In a story like “Young Goodman Brown,” neither the reader nor the protagonist can distinguish reality from fantasy with any sureness.