Excerpt relating to Hawthorne’s "Wakefield" from The Cambridge Introduction to Hawthorne by Leland S. Person (49-50) (courtesy of Cambridge University Press)
"Wakefield" elaborates a similar idea in the form of a common fantasy--to die or disappear but retain the power to see what effect your absence has on the people and the world you left behind. Washington Irving’s "Rip Van Winkle" explores this idea... . In effect, Wakefield steeps outside of time, becoming "another man"--—an invisible man--and leaving an absence where his presence used to be (9:135). As Sharon Cameron puts it, "He wants feeling to be outside of him, to be felt for rather than by him" (49).
Wakefield, like Rip Van Winkle, also flees a particular situation--his wife and the domestic sphere of marriage and home he associates with her. In this respect the story enacts an exaggerated version of the common nineteenth-century paradigm of separate spheres. Mrs. Wakefield remains within the home, while Wakefield makes another life for himself outside it. Not that Wakefield’s flight is motivated by such considerations. Hawthorne never explains the reasons for Wakefield’s escape, any more than he tell us why Reverend Hooper dons the black veil. He even suggests that Wakefield himself does not know his motives. And at the end of the tale, when Wakefield decides to return home, his decision seems a product of whim, the result of pausing one night before his house and noticing the "comfortable fire" on the hearth. As he does in "The Minister’s Black Veil," Hawthorne draws a curtain of ambiguity over the question of human motivation (50).