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’s central theme of "how little we have to do with what we are" through the following questions: "If nobody calls us by our name for twenty years, do we really know who we are? Can a change of clothes, or residence, of name, shatter the fragile, brittle, and inform personality that we have so carefully constructed? Is this created personality so delicate and vulnerable that it needs constantly to be supported by others? Are we really only a part of a "magnetic chain" that will close us out the minute we miss a step and therefore lose our place in the procession of life?" (Donohue 154)
Donohue addresses Wakefield’s ability to pick up where he left of twenty years prior to his departure, or rather "salvage what infinitesimal identity he had" (157). She concludes her critique with more questions regarding the influence on Wakefield’s experience upon the good Mrs. Wakefield; these questions, as they remain unanswered, serve only as loose ends and pose a threat of indecision on an otherwise well-written, clearly thought-out analysis....