Analysis of Hawthorne’s Work

“We are soothed as we read; and withal is a calm astonishment that ideas so apparently obvious have never occurred or been presented to us before.”


Though Hawthorne’s literary works are often complex in their meaning and theme, his distinctive stylistic writing simplifies the text, yielding a more accessible and more interesting text. Hawthorne’s Wakefield, in particular, is a perfect example. Wakefield is written in a kind of conversational folklore. In other words, Hawthorne writes as though he is conversing with his reader and in doing so, he stays true to his theme of “twice-told tales”. In Poe’s critique of Hawthorne, Poe stated that, as readers, “We are soothed as we read”, which is true. Hawthorne sets the tone of ease by first conjuring an image of casual storytelling. Although he doesn’t explicitly set this scene, his conversation with the reader is similar to that of an elder telling a child a folktale. The first and most obvious example comes in his introductory paragraph. “In some old magazine or newspaper, I recollect a story, told as truth, of a man–let us call him Wakefield–who absented himself for a long time, from his wife”. Personally, I was able to connect and visualize the story immediately, settling into the twice-told tale/folktale. As the text continues, there are numerous examples of this in his questions such as “What sort of a man was Wakefield”, in his interjections “Let us now imagine Wakefield bidding adieu to his wife”, and exclamations “Wakefield! Whither are you going?” In addition, Poe states that Hawthorne’s distinct style extends to the way he presented his ideas. Poe recognized that through the progression of Hawthorne’s work, as Hawthorne would introduce new ideas, he presented his ideas as fact. Hawthorne introduced his ideas so persuasively, that the reader would think his ideas were obvious. Although Hawthorne doesn’t explicitly state his ideas, he certainly injects his thoughts on the story. “His fate was turning on the pivot”, “It is perilous to make a chasm in human affections”, and finally his conclusion that “individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system…and to a whole, that, by stepping by for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever.” In essence, Hawthorne not only interjects his ideas in the text, but more clearly in his social observations that seem so plainly apparent in his style.

Find Poe’s original review of Hawthorne’s work here