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Alienation in Hawthorne's Fiction: Introduction

Alienation in "The Artist of the Beautiful": Introduction

Material prepared by:
David Donavel , Department of English
Masconomet Regional High School,
Topsfield,MA

Andy
Andy's Butterfly Altered (photography by Andrew Martinez)
 
While the artist in many of Hawthorne's stories and novels is represented as both outside of society and a failure, Owen Warland of "The Artist of the Beautiful," however alienated, achieves a redemptive success through his art. Slim and delicate, fascinated by the ideal, Warland stands in sharp contrast both to the shrewd Yankee, Peter Hovenden, who is also the father of Annie, the woman Warland loves, and to Robert Danforth, the physically powerful, good natured, but intellectually limited blacksmith who takes Annie for his wife. From the outset Warland's dream is to imbue a mechanism with spirit, an ambition closely related to Mother Rigby's bringing a scarecrow to life in "Feathertop" or Drowne's animating his wooden sculpture in "Drowne's Wooden Image." On and off throughout the tale he devotes energy to this project and ultimately creates an excruciatingly delicate butterfly that he offers as a belated wedding gift to Annie and Robert. The butterfly delights Annie, interests Robert, earns the scorn of old Peter Hovenden and is finally crushed in the infantile but mighty grasp of the child who bears an uncanny and malignant resemblance to his grandfather, Peter Hovenden, the man whose coarse and ill humored temperament has been the bane of Warland's existence. The destruction of Warland's life work, however distressing to Annie and perhaps the reader, does not upset Owen Warland as he has discovered that "the reward of all high performance must be sought within itself, or sought in vain." Warland is able to look on serenely at the destruction of his mechanical butterfly-a mechanism worth, as an object of art, a good deal of money-because "he had caught a far other butterfly than this."

Warland can be understood as, perhaps, Hawthorne's most successful artist/intellectual. He neither sinks back into spiritual stagnation as does Drowne, nor does he live in constant battle with the world as does Ethan Brand, the old witch Mother Rigby of "Feathertop," or even poor Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter. And, unlike Holgrave of The House of the Seven Gables, Warland does not opt for the values of the marketplace at his first opportunity. Whether Warland's ultimate "victory" at the end of the tale reflects the solace Hawthorne himself found in the act of creation remains a question. If it does, then it would seem "The Artist of the Beautiful" represents a kind of answer to the judgment Hawthorne imagined his Puritan ancestors making of him in "The Custom House:" "A writer of story-books! What kind of a business in life,--what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation,--may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!"


Page citation: http://www.hawthorneinsalem.org/page/11714/


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