In the short stories, The Hollow of Three Hills by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Moving Finger by Edith Wharton, there is an ever present sense of the supernatural. This is shown in various contrasting as well as similar ways in each story. Two such ways would be the use of the supernatural in a physical and impure way in Hawthorne’s story and in a psychological and spiritual way in Wharton’s. The use of the setting to portray the supernatural motif is also used.
Firstly, both stories share similar motifs such as the symbolic use of the number three, and the utilization of the romantic genre. As The Hollow of The Three Hills was written before The Moving Finger, Edith Wharton used it to inspire her and she used many language features, which Hawthorne had used to portray the supernatural as it was perceived in that time period, this explains the many similarities between both stories.
For example In the Hollow of the Three Hills the idea of the number three is repeated numerous times to reinforce its symbolic meaning, such as three hills themselves, and the number of visions the woman has. This idea is mirrored in Wharton’s piece with the number three being represented by the number of times the painting is refurbished, the love triangle between Mr. Grancy, Claydon, and Mrs. Grancy, and the idea that the dead wife’s spirit is also a wife, giving the total of three wives.
In a religious point of view the number three links to the holy trinity, which represents the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit, the use of it as a motif by the authors adds extra emphasis to the theme of the supernatural in the stories and the idea of the puritan way of life meaning that they will be punished for their sins, which in both cases was adultery we know this because in Hawthorne’s story the young woman says “There is a weight in my bosom that I cannot away with, and I have come hither to inquire of their welfare,” and in Wharton’s piece, Mr.
Grancy expresses guilt over the jokes he made about his wife growing tired of him, “Three years of it – and then she died. ” Secondly, the use of the supernatural in The Hollow of Three Hills is very blatant and has a very real life physical presence. The decrepit old woman plays the characteristic role of the typical witch who casts spells, conjures visions and preys on naive people, in this case the young fair woman. In The Moving Finger it is more subtly used, in the form of Mrs. Grancys spirit supposedly living on after death in the painting. Both stories have an ambiguous tone, which the authors employed to make use f the human imagination, as what was left out in the story the reader imagines, hence through keeping information from us, the authors allow our minds to play a role in the telling of the story. Often at times what man creates with his mind when blind is far scarier than what he can see with his eyes. Thirdly, the setting of the stories also plays a vital role in portraying the supernatural. In The Hollow of Three Hills, Hawthorne uses a setting which is more reminiscent of a horror or supernatural story, with it being the literal ‘witching hour’ ads to the effect of dark supernatural forces at play.
The descriptive language used gives the impression of a murky swamp in the middle of nowhere, and the tone of the scene being grey and dead with a pool of green sluggish water and decaying plant life adds to the effect. Another use of the setting, that allows the supernatural motif to permeate through the story, is the nearly perfect shape of the hollow basin, which is described as being almost mathematically circular, Hawthorne had used this because around that period in time anything seen as a perfect shape that occurred naturally in nature, was seen as inherently evil due to the improbability that it would take such a perfect shape.
In the Moving Finger the setting is not as important, it focuses more on the grandeur and mysterious properties of the painting and how captivated Mr. Grancy and Claydon are to the point of madness. To conclude the idea of the supernatural is depicted as being one of which is very fundamental to the story, and is shown throughout the story, accordingly. -Varun Ghadiali