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Arden, E. (1961). Hawthorne's “Case of Arthur D.”. Am. Imago, 18(1):45-55.

(1961). American Imago, 18(1):45-55

Hawthorne's “Case of Arthur D.”

Eugene Arden

Sigmund Freud discovered a scientific method of probing the unconscious, and while willing to accept the many honors due him, he sensibly demurred when greeted as the discoverer of the unconscious itself. “The poets and philosophers before me,” he quite accurately pointed out. “discovered the unconscious.” (1)

Among the artists so designated by Freud, none was more clinically accurate in his psychological insights, to a degree which must astonish the modern reader, than Nathaniel Hawthorne. A Freudian before Freud himself, Hawthorne and his fiction have already been studied by several modern psychiatrists, (2) whose conclusions, while provocative, are also incomplete and in some ways, as we shall see. inaccurate—and in need of further commentary. By an intensive study of only one novel, The Scarlet Letter, we here propose to show the extraordinary profundity of Hawthorne's special medical insights, and then to raise the crucial question of what there was in the haunted Puritan world of this American novelist, a hundred years ago, to suggest a psychology of the unconscious.


The Scarlet Letter lends itself particularly well to psychoanalytic interpretation because it deals so extensively with the way a sick mind sickens the body—what we today call psychosomatic illness.

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