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.