The Great Stone Face (Hardcover)
"The Great Stone Face" is a short story published by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850. The story reappeared in a full-length book, The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales, published by Ticknor, Reed & Fields in 1852. It has since been republished and anthologized many times.
Hawthorne sets the scene in a rural valley located in an unnamed U.S. state that resembles New Hampshire. A rock formation in a nearby notch is imagined, by many locals and visitors, to resemble the shape and features of a human face:
The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, to precisely to resemble the features of the human countenance. It seemed as if an enormous giant, or a Titan, had sculptured his own likeness on the precipice. There was the broad arch of the forehead, a hundred feet in height...
The local folklore of the valley includes a prophecy, alleged to descend from the Native Americans, that at some future date a native son would be born within sight of the notch whose features would resemble the Great Stone Face; and when this face was seen, those who would see him would recognize that he was "the greatest and noblest personage of his time." This prophecy inspires an innocent youngster of the valley, Ernest, who feels within himself the quest to help uncover this hero.
As time passes and Ernest grows to manhood, the story from the notch is bruited about the United States, and others are also inspired. Unlike Ernest, the hope of some of them is that they themselves would be the hero of the tale. One by one, they revisit the valley to seek public recognition and acknowledgment of this resemblance. The succession of would-be American heroes forms the body of Hawthorne's narrative. In succession, a merchant of immense wealth, a conquering general, a politician renowned for his skilled oratory, and finally a brilliant writer return to the glen. After enjoying the brief plaudits of their admirers, the four men each reveal themselves to have character flaws that prevent them from fulfilling the conditions of the prophecy. Each of them have slight flaws in their physiognomies, recognized at once by the sensitive Ernest, that serve as foreshadows of their inability to live up to the expectations of their eager friends.