Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was an American novelist and short-story writer, now considered one of the best authors of fiction in the country's history. He crafted his tales with frequent symbolism and allegory and forced the reader to consider questions of morality and faith. This was in no small part because Hawthorne was a direct descendant of a prominent Puritan family in Massachusetts. Hawthorne thought that perhaps his family's declining prosperity over the years was a form of retribution for the actions of his ancestors, including one who presided over the Salem witch trials. He gained a positive reputation as an author in 1837 with his compilation of short stories, entitled Twice-Told Tales. Yet he was still unable to support himself and, like Herman Melville, had to take a job at the customhouse in Boston.
Hawthorne spent about half a year at the Brook Farm cooperative living experiment in Massachusetts, but he left because he did not share the same philosophy as the transcendentalists who were living there. He was working as a surveyor of the port in Salem, Massachusetts, when he wrote his magnum opus, The Scarlet Letter, in 1850. The tale of a seventeenth-century Puritan adulteress named Hester Prynne made Hawthorne famous and has been called the first psychological novel to come out of the United States. He wrote several other novels and enjoyed a consular post in England after the election of President Franklin Pierce, his friend from Bowdoin College.