Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Colonial Spaces in Three Early Hawthorne Tales

If you're less interested in my readings of the wilderness and the desert in "Roger Malvin's Burial," "Wakefield," and "Young Goodman Brown," head on over to WAAGNFNP for my readings of figures for global capitalism in Subcomandante Marcos's "The Southeast in Two Winds: A Storm and a Prophecy" and William Greider's One World, Ready or Not. If not, check out these passages--bonus points to those who can identify the stories from which each comes before I do.

And the boy dashed one tear-drop from his eye, and thought of the adventurous pleasures of the untrodden forest. Oh! who, in the enthusiasm of a day-dream, has not wished that he were a wanderer in a world of summer wilderness, with one fair and gentle being hanging lightly on his arm? In youth, his free and exulting step would know no barrier but the rolling ocean or the snow-topt mountains; calmer manhood would choose a home, where Nature had strewn a double wealth, in the vale of some transparent stream; and when hoary age, after long, long years of that pure life, stole on and found him there, it would find him the father of a race, the patriarch of a people, the founder of a mighty nation yet to be. When death, like the sweet sleep which we welcome after a day of happiness, came over him, his far descendants would mourn over the venerated dust. Enveloped by tradition in mysterious attributes, the men of future generations would call him godlike; and remote posterity would see him standing, dimly glorious, far up the valley of a hundred centuries!

He had contrived, or rather he had happened, to dissever himself from the world--to vanish--to give up his place and privileges with living men, without being admitted among the dead.... It was [his] unprecedented fate, to retain his original share of human sympathies, and to still be involved in human interests, while he had lost his reciprocal influence on them. It would be a most curious speculation, to trace out the effect of such circumstances on his heart and intellect, separately, and in unison.... Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that, by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever.

He paused, in a lull of the tempest that had driven him onward, and heard the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling solemnly from a distance, with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune; it was a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The verse died heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human voices, but of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness, pealing in awful harmony together. [He] cried out; and his cry was lost to his own ear, by its unison with the cry of the desert.

If you guessed that I'd stick to alphabetical (and chronological) order--or if you recognized the passages as Cyrus's daydream not long before his father, Reuben Bourne, accidentally shoots him dead at the same place he left his father-in-law, Roger Malvin, to die decades earlier after a battle with Indians left them both wounded; the narrator's musings on Wakefield, a Londoner who decided one day not to return home to his wife, moved to new dwellings a few blocks away, and stayed there for twenty years before finally returning home; and Young Goodman Brown's arrival at what he takes to be the witches' coven that he had set out into the wilderness to avoid going to, until he was deceived by the devil's illusions into losing faith in his wife Faith--well, good for you.

The reason I collect them here is that they are key moments in Hawthorne's representation of colonial spaces. Later, I'll share my readings of how David Levin, Michael Colacurcio, and Manfred Mackenzie read "Roger Malvin's Burial," how Robert Martin reads "Wakefield," and how Renee Bergland reads "Young Goodman Brown," but for now I want to simply note that Hawthorne consistently represents the new world wilderness in terms colonial Puritans would have been quite familiar with. The narrator in RMB refers to "a region, of which savage beasts and savage men were as yet sole possessors" and calls each of the four main characters of the tale "pilgrims"; both Malvin and Bourne refer to the "howling wilderness." The narator in YGB describes Goodman Brown's journey into the woods as an "errand" and describes the wilderness as "heathen," "dark," "benighted," and "unconverted"; Goodman Brown himself worries that "There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," he describes himself as having "kept covenant by meeting thee here" when addressing a figure he believes to be the devil and claims, "My father never went into the woods on such a errand, nor his father before him." Even Wakefield's sojourn of a few blocks in London echoes the kind of identity-transforming experiences of Bourne, Brown, Chillingworth, and Hester. I'll pick up where this intro to a close reading leaves off next Tuesday--I've run out of time today!

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