This essay suggests that viewing “The Custom House” and The Scarlet Letter through the lens of actor-network theory allows us to better understand Hawthorne’s view of the social contract. Hawthorne’s novels both model and perform an uncanny form of sympathetic community-making that relies on the power of implied depth—expressed in passages, symbols, gestures, and subtle hints—to generate affective bonds. This Hawthornean model for social networking offers a potentially liberating and creatively inspiring example for thinking about the connections we make between literary interpretation and digital resources, and it also offers a model for how reading and interpretation—of texts, other people, and even ourselves—can lead to increasingly open-ended and ethically responsible relationships between self and other.

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