The Hollow of the Three Hills by Nathaniel Hawthorne

In The Hollow of the Three Hills by Nathaniel Hawthorne we have the theme of sacrifice, death, regret, guilt, desperation and bravery. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Hawthorne may be exploring the theme of sacrifice. The woman must sacrifice her life with the evil woman if she wishes to see what has happened to her family. Driven by guilt the woman agrees to this requirement in order to settle her mind and her heart. Though the woman has been unfaithful to her husband (by abandoning him) she still loves him, her parents and her family. If anything Hawthorne may be suggesting that with family life comes responsibilities and that the woman has not met the responsibilities she was expected to have met. This may be significant as Hawthorne could be suggesting that despite an individual’s actions (the woman’s) a person can still have regrets about what they may have done. Though due to societal norms a person knows that they must take a course of action that is difficult. That being the woman abandoning her family. The reader aware that she abandoned her family due to her inability to handle the death of her child.

The fact that the woman tried to escape her duties as a wife may also be important as Hawthorne may be placing a spotlight on what exactly was expected of a woman at the time the story was written. There is no doubting that the woman was under a lot of pressure. However she received no support from her parents or her husband. If anything the pressure may have become too much for the woman. Though it is interesting that when she meets the evil woman she knows the consequences of what will happen. She must give up her life. If anything this might be considered to be an act of bravery by some readers. Even though she knows she is going to die should she engage with the evil woman. The woman nonetheless does so. The woman is prepared to sacrifice her life in order to discover that everything is okay with her family. She may also be so overwhelmed with regret that she longs to make sure that everything is okay since her departure.

It is also interesting that at no stage in the story do any of the other characters that are mentioned think positively of the woman. It is as though they blame her for acting irresponsibly. Which may suggest that none of the characters have any compassion for the difficulties that the woman went through. Her only friend in the story appears to be the evil woman. Who has a motive when it comes to helping the woman. She knows that she can claim the woman’s life. If anything there is a sense of loneliness within the woman. Something that is matched by the desolate setting of the story. The fact that the story takes place at night time might also be important as Hawthorne may be attempting to add an element of darkness to the story. Something that he does manage to achieve. If anything the woman is in a desperate position. Though she may have abandoned her family. She has not forgotten them. Similarly the reason the woman doesn’t go back to her family might be because of the shame she feels. There may be no chance of forgiveness for the woman due to accepted societal norms of the time.

It may also be a case that Hawthorne is highlighting how overpowering guilt can be and the extremes an individual will go to in order to cleanse themselves of guilt. This is exactly what the woman does. So weighed down is she by guilt that she sacrifices her life in order to make some type of amends. An amends that nobody can see. Which may further highlight how strong an emotion like regret can be. To lose somebody in life is traumatic but to knowingly sacrifice yourself for others is something which many critics might consider to be even more difficult. Though it would be easy to judge the woman negatively for her actions it may be Hawthorne’s intention to highlight to the reader just how difficult the woman found things. She has never been able to let go of what has happened and what she has done. It is a cross that she has borne right up to her death. If anything Hawthorne could be suggesting that in life one will always have regrets and carry guilt for one’s actions. It is a matter of how a person lives their life after the event which may be important and the woman has paid the price for her actions.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "The Hollow of the Three Hills by Nathaniel Hawthorne." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 6 Jul. 2018. Web.


  • So how does the title of the story relate to the story itself

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Perhaps Hawthorne by his choice of title is suggesting that the woman has made amends yet nobody is there to see those amends. Her actions or victory is hollow.

    • The story title is the place she sacrifices her life

    • I think there is a mistake in this analysis. The child of the women died after she abandoned her family, which means she did not left her family because she couldn’t handle the death of her child. As in the first scene, her parents were first talking about their daughter, and then mentioned about “a more recent woe”. In the last scene at the funeral of the child, the crowd said the women “sinned against natural affection and left her child to die.” These two evidence all point to the fact that the child died after the woman left her home. And the woman was therefore blamed for being a sinful mother.

      • I have a reasonable answer to it and this is what our teacher has taught us. The woman knew that her child is about to die as she could see through what pain and sufferings her daughter is going…..Hope that answers the question Penny!

    • There’s another mistake in the analysis. The setting of the story is during the day time, instead of in the night. As the witch have said to the woman before she uttered any spell “be thou bold, and the daylight shall not pass away from yonder hill-top, before thy wish be granted.” It means that the magic could only work if they do this whole thing before the sun pass away from the top of the hill.

  • With emphasis on tone and mood, how does the society play an important role in the story?

  • Im still confused as to thinking it was her daughter that passed but appears to be the son. In what part of the story is that mentioned? And I also thought that the title, The Hollow of Three Hills, meant the sadness each member in her family faces could this be a correct interpretation or not please let me know! Great review it helped me better understand this story!

  • The fact that woman is presented negatively but still sacrifices herself for her family could be the author’s way to explore the duality of the human race. How people can be innately both good and bad. Novels of the time such as Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde or Shelley’s Frankenstein show this duality well. Perhaps it was a prominent feature of society at the time, all around the world.

  • when the woman sees her family is it in the present or past???

  • Did your impression of the characters change throughout the story?

  • Also, in the first sentence of the whole story he mentions “old times” what is he referring to?

  • what is the setting of the story?

  • The narrator would like to show the actual power of a woman, not her weakness, this basically means that a woman is strong beside others.

  • Describe how Nathaniel Hawthorne portrays the role of patriarchal society in his story.

    • Yes, story can be taken in this context. The young women was burdened with a lot of responsibilities ( taking care of whole family). In the patriarchal society a woman has to face such circumstances. She is only supposed to be at home and taking care of her children. If she fails to fulfill her responsibilities, no one will stand with her. Abandoning her family and escaping of her responsibilities was considered as a sin in that orthodox society.

  • Es relevante en los tiempos modernos?
    como podria ser diferente la historia si sucediera en otro momento o lugar?

  • This story clearly shows the the gender discrimination between women and men. Means to say that if a woman does a mistake it will never be forgotten. She had to pay for this for her entire life..Secondly,it shows the bravery of the woman how she chooses death just to satisfy his heart that her family is alright after she abandoned home.

  • Can you guide me through the themes this story incorporates?

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