Allegory vs. Fictional Realism: Two Ways to Construct Characters

        Readers of Hawthorne's fiction often become aware that characters or settings have begun to suggest that they "represent ideas" in addition to representing the existence of a historically realistic fictional character.  "Allegory" is the name for the ancient (esp. medieval) method of using characters to act out the roles of abstract ideas.  It was a style of writing that largely fell out of fashion in English literature during the eighteenth century, an era known for its emphasis on rational thought and scientific exploration of experience.  However, authors often retrieve old writing tricks from ancient works and reshape them for new purposes.  When a Hawthorne character seems to represent an idea (e.g., "Faith," at some times in "YGB"), readers might suspect she represents the idea for which she is named.  However, expert readers will test such assumptions carefully to avoid being tricked by our author.  Does the character always act like the idea we think she represents, or does she also act like a historically realistic character?  Remember that people who treat other people as "symbols" rather than as real people tend to be regarded as not entirely rational--do we want our author to coax us into irrational thought?  Perhaps a contrasting look at a true medieval allegory will help put "Faith" in perspective.

        Ordo Virtutum (The Company of Virtues) is a medieval morality play set to music and composed by Hildegard von Bingen (c. 1136).  It is not what you probably would call "hot," but it might help you locate Hawthorne's character constructions on a more accurate scale.  When you are tempted to call a character symbolic (e.g., "YGB"'s "Faith") or say a character is unambiguously evil or good, keep in mind that Hawthorne is not writing allegory, but rather that he uses allusions to allegories to add philosophical ambiguity or depth to his psychological fictions.  In Hildegard's play, which is a straight-ahead allegory, a character called "The Soul" talks to characters named Humility, Charity, Fear of God, Obedience, Faith (and she's really, only, the idea of "faith"), Hope, Chastity, Innocence, Contempt of the World (a good thing, like purity), Celestial Love, Discipline, Modesty, Mercy, Victory, Discernment, and Patience.  The Soul runs into a character named "The Devil" (note capital letters, the way we indicate proper nouns like names), and The Devil coaxes The Soul into abandoning the Company of Virtues for the temptations of the flesh.  Later, The Soul returns to the Virtues, is purified, and together with the Virtues resists The Devil's temptations.  At the end, Victory kicked The Devil bodily off the stage and six feet into the orchestra pit.  Now that's allegory, and those characters were Faith and The Devil.  Contrast that with the far more ambiguous associations between characters and allegory that Hawthorne has given you in "YGB."  The same thing likely is true of characters in "Rappaccini's Daughter."  Characters may allude to Genesis, but they are not the same as characters in Genesis, and noticing the differences should be very important if you consider what Genesis is taken to be by Christians and Jews, alike!