Excerpts relating to Hawthorne’s “Wakefield” from “Wakefield’s Second Journey” by Robert F. Weldon in the winter 1977 edition of Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 14, issue 1, 69-74).
In these excerpts Weldon discusses Wakefield as the quester experiencing a midlife crisis who, though “he may return home…will always be ‘the Outcast of the Universe’” (74).
“Wakefield,” like so many of Hawthorne’s tales echoes the perennial motif of the lonely individual searching for some special goal. … Wakefield’s time of crisis comes later in life (than that of Young Goodman Brown or Robin in “My Kinsman, Major Molineaux”) like that of another American quester, Rip Van Winkle, yet still is focused on the problem of identity and human relationship. He has already moved from adolescence to maturity. Now he must make what Jung has described as the second journey that usually comes in the late middle years of life and is necessary to achieve the final reconciliation with oneself before the fulness of age and death” (69).
… The mature quester often appears to society as a threat to its values. He is frequently characterized as a rebel who challenges the traditional patterns of society to search for new meaning in life. … (70).
… He seems to have all the symptoms of middle life crisis. He is a “constant” husband (ibid.), more out of habit than passion or love. He loses himself in “long and lazy musings” (ibid.) which suggests his dissatisfaction with his daily routine. He is a man living the buried life, experiencing neither deep feeling or freshness and activity of thought. …. (71).
…It is important to notice the reasons that Hawthorne provides for the solitary journey. First, he suggests that Wakefield wishes to puzzle his poor wife, and later he states that his “morbid vanity” (ibid.) might cause his unusual behavior. Both motives, while linking him to the classical American quester, … do not satisfactorily explain his behavior. … The only alternative that Hawthorne allows is for the reader to accept that his actions may be inexplicable, even to himself and perhaps without conscious motivation. Wakefield has been drawn by, … in psychoanalytic terms, some unconscious motivation—the drive that he and all humans share to understand themselves and their lives before they die. This alternative would explain the disturbing power of “Wakefield,” for it again removes the personal (71) history from the realm of “a particular little strangeness” (p. 132), and makes his fate a universal possibility” (71).
Hawthorne does not seem to believe, however, that a change in man is as easy to accomplish as putting on a new coat. To move to a new awareness the mature solitary pilgrim must not only see clearly the world outside himself, he also must confront and reorder his own past. This process of reconciliation begins with Wakefield’s first chance meeting with his wife, for she symbolizes his old self as well as the external world he studies from his detachment. She never initiates action but only reacts to her husband. In a sense, she seems to become an extension of one side of his personality—his conventional self. … But Wakefield is not yet ready for reconciliation; this brief vision of union with his wife only plunges him more deeply into himself… (73).
Later in the story Hawthorne describes Wakefield’s final attempt at reintegration. When Wakefield stands outside his home twenty years after his departure, his altered perception of his wife is subtle but important” (73). … Wakefield has remade his wife in his own image.
… He has imposed his identity on her instead of reconciling himself to what she represents. Although Hawthorne does not describe the homecoming, it is clear that Wakefield’s return to her does not mark a true reconciliation, for he capable of affecting only a solipsistic encounter with a shadow image of himself. To make a successful journey, the mental traveler must learn to transcend the self through awareness and acceptance of the other, both the alter image of the self and the reality outside the self. Without this transcendence, the self will not grow but perish (74).
…Wakefield has taken “a fearful risk” (p. 140) and has lost. Although he may return home, he will always be “the Outcast of the Universe” (ibid.) (74).
… [Wakefield’s story] affects us because it expresses some deep longing in ourselves, a desire to remake our lives as we feel they should be. … Hawthorne recognized in Wakefield’s feeble efforts to achieve the possible a tragic human pattern. Our own unwillingness to laugh at Wakefield’s second journey only affirms the validity of the author’s instincts (74).