Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent

Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent

"Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent" is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The author originally intended for the story to appear in a collection entitled "Allegories of the Heart". It was first published in the March, 1843 edition of "The United States Magazine and Democratic Review". It later appeared in "Mosses from an Old Manse", a collection of short stories by Hawthorne published in 1846.

Plot synopsis

George Herkimer visits his old acquaintance, Roderick Elliston, who is rumored to have a snake residing in his bosom. Herkimer says he brings Elliston a message from his wife Rosina, but he retreats into his house before receiving it.

Elliston and Rosina had separated four years earlier. Soon, people noticed a green tint to his skin and often heard a hissing sound coming from his bosom. Elliston sought the attention of others and pointed out the snakes they possessed within their own bosoms. His relatives placed him in an asylum, but his doctors decided his affliction did not demand confinement.

After learning this, Herkimer returns to Elliston, who says his self-contemplation has nurtured the serpent. Rosina appears and suggests that he "forget [himself] in the idea of another." They touch and Roderick is healed.

Major themes

The snake represents an affliction of the ego. Elliston's ego has been wounded by his separation from Rosina, and it is only redemption through Rosina that can save him.

Elliston's self-contemplation contributes to his ailment. Hawthorne, in response to the Transcendentalists, believed one cannot be spiritually sufficient without input from and contact with others.


"All persons chronically diseased are egotists ... such individuals are made acutely conscious of a self, by the torture in which it dwells ... for it is that cancer, or that crime, which constitutes their respective individuality."

"Strange spectacle in human life where it is the instinctive effort of one and all to hide those sad realities, and leave them undisturbed beneath a heap of superficial topics which constitute the materials of intercourse between man and man!"

External links

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