Poe on Hawthorne


Poe Claims that Nathaniel Hawthorne is a skillful literary artist and attests that, as such, he does not fashion “his thoughts to accommodate his incidents”, but rather creates a purpose to the story and “then invents such incidents”. This assertion is displayed in Hawthorne’s tale, Wakefield, through diction, imagery, and the overall theme. Hawthorne establishes a questioning of one’s place and importance in the universe by saying, “Poor Wakefield! Little knowest thou thine own significance in this great world!”(Norton B 397). Hawthorne makes this commentary after Wakefield assumes that someone must have seen and recognized him crossing the street from his old home to his new apartment. Later Hawthorne sarcastically inserts, “Can it be nobody caught sight of him… there fugitive lord and master… Wonderful escape!”(Norton B 398). Wakefield clearly feels a sense of escalated importance, perhaps as some sort of prodigal son, and Hawthorne uses his power as the narrator to craftily ridicule this assumption. This tactic shows Hawthorne’s masterful skill in using the “incidents” to support his agenda. When describing Wakefield in his self-exile, Hawthorne states that he is “spellbound” (Norton B 399). This word choice implies a level of lack of agency, suggesting an inability to go back home to his wife. Wakefield is made completely separate from his previous world, including his wife and home, and is essentially living in limbo. He is not dead but is also not truly a part of reality. Somehow though, life goes on relatively unhindered by this “disappearance” of Wakefield.  Truly Hawthorne creates an air of meaninglessness to Wakefield that strongly supports, at least one of, the purposes of the story. Hawthorne concludes his tale by referring to Wakefield as the “Outcast of the Universe”(Norton B 401), and warning every man that the same can happen to him. What most stands out is that “Outcast” is capitalized, which, if nothing else, suggests the gravity of his word choice. Wakefield’s dissociation from society, for twenty years, only served to take him away from it and not affect much else. As displayed, Hawthorne suggests this theme or message throughout his tale, which, as Poe asserted, is the mark of an exceptional short story writer.

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