Nathaniel Hawthorne’s David Swan: An Analysis Using Binary Opposites

David Swan is a story of a young man who is on his way to Boston, and while waiting for the coach, he falls asleep. While he is sleeping, three major things happen, which could have changed his life from then on.

First, a young couple passes by him and sees him. The lady wants to take him with them and give him fortune but the gentleman is in doubt because they do not know him. So they just decide to leave him there alone and asleep. It happens that the couple are wealthy and can offer him some fortune, but he misses it because he is asleep.

After the couple, a fair young maiden comes to his way and marvels at his youthful beauty. It also happens that the maiden’s father is looking for a young man like David; if only David is able to introduce himself to the maiden, he could have been her father’s clerk. Another fortunes that he misses.

After the girl leaves, a group of bandits come to him and pose threat to kill him if he wakes up as they are taking some of his possessions. The men succeed in taking David’s things, and fortunately, David does not wake up, and he does not end up dead in the story.

As the men leave, a coach passes by and David awakes. He got into the coach with all his hopes of Boston in him, never knowing everything that happens while he is asleep.


Binary opposites or the opposing forces of nature can be seen in this story and they help in the development of the meaning of the story. These are some of the following:

Good – Bad. We can see this in the vicissitudes that happened while David was asleep. Two of the three vicissitudes were good, fortune and love and the other one is death, obviously the bad one. This implies that both good and bad chances are equally forgotten and/or taken for granted we journey through life.

Ignorance – Awareness. David was ignorant about all the things that happened to him while he was asleep and had no clue even after he woke up. All those people who passed by him were aware that he is asleep and does not sense anything nor will remember anything after he wakes up. These binary opposites tell us that all the chances coming to us are aware about us, yet we are not aware about them. These chances only wait for our response, if we do take, reject or ignore them, let alone not notice them

Chance – Choice. David chose to rest and later on fell asleep, thus missing several chances of his life which could have determined his final outcome. Life is both a matter of choice and chance. All these chances that come to us are all products of our choices. We make a choice, then just like dominoes, chain of chances appear to us.


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