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Life Outside of Life in Hawthorne’s Wakefield

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Life Outside of Life in Hawthorne’s Wakefield

Efficacy lies at the heart of human desires for immortality. Characters throughout literature and art are depicted as wanting to step aside and see what their world would be like without their individual contributions. The literary classic A Christmas Carol and the more recent, but ageless, film It’s Wonderful Life both use outside influences (three ghosts and Clarence the Angel, respectively) to demonstrate Scrooge’s and George Bailey’s significance to the lives of others. Differently, however, is the desire of Mr. Wakefield, himself, to actually step outside and beyond the boundaries of his existence to see his own significance in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Wakefield. Furthermore, the characters of the two aforementioned works are enlightened through the importance of their actions and their lives. Wakefield is altered through his experience, but has no such consciousness of his transformation.

A work of literature affects the reader by appealing to his or her matter of perspective. Though contrasting out of context, two particular assessments of Wakefield-- one derived from an existentialist viewpoint, the other stemming from a truly feminist archetype— do agree on the conflict of Mr. Wakefield’s actions versus himself and the inconclusive nature of that conflict. Furthermore, both points of view attack Wakefield for his insensitivity toward the good Mrs. Wakefield.

In a critique and analysis of the work (which has only recently been granted the attention it so deserves), Agnes Donohue addresses Hawthorne’s "castigation of Wakefield" for not knowing his own unimportance by asking questions of an existentialist nature. She proposes expansions on E.A.Robinson’...

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... in the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Wakefield. The evidence of this is the thesis that Wakefield’s status lies in his recognition by others. Once he is not recognized, he is belittled and not only sees the ridiculousness of his actions, but also his inefficiency in general; furthermore, through the ordeal he has only seen his wife’s proficiency in her ability to carry on with out him (Kelsey 20).

Although he should lose faith in himself as an effective human, husband, and master the absurdity of Hawthorne’s tale lies in the anomaly of Wakefield’s return home as if having been gone no longer than the week he intended to stay away. However, because Hawthorne judged not the actor but the actions, we still rally in the wonderment of knowing "each for himself, that none of us would perpetrate such a folly, yet feel as if some other might" (Hawthorne 76).
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