In costuming her scarecrow Mother Rigby chooses exotic garments, some of
which come to her through the "Black Man" or through other witches. Here Hawthorne
makes the connection between the artist's work and
the demonic, suggesting that the powers of creation carry with them a
touch of the supernatural.
In taking delight in her creation, Mother Rigby
defies "any witch in New England" to make anything as good as Feathertop.
Reading the passage, one cannot help but imagine Hawthorne himself feeling
something of Mother Rigby's pleasure for, after all, he not only created Feathertop,
but Mother Rigby herself. It is hard to imagine a man as self-aware as Hawthorne
failing to feel a connection between himself and his jolly witch.
Hawthorne offers in these three passages from "Feathertop"
a humorously self-deprecating and yet somewhat revealing judgment on art and,
perhaps, his art in particular. In the first passage, he suggests that artistic
success is merely a "spectral illusion," one that might well vanish if scrutinized
too closely. In the second, he as good as confesses that the characters he
has contrived for his romances are no more substantial than Mother Rigby's
scarecrow. In the third, then, a passage that occurs at the moment in the
story when Mother Rigby is exhorting[ Feathertop to come to life, that is,
the point in the tale which is least credible, Hawthorne wryly tells the reader
that he would find the story believable, if only he believed in it, a conclusion
which is quite funny and which arises naturally from the direction he's taken
in the first two passages.
Passages Relating to Hawthorne's Satire of the World:
In this amusing passage, the townsfolk speculate on the European, and therefore
elevated, origins of Feathertop as he, a stranger,
strolls through town. Hawthorne's satire is broad, but effective, and the
passage puts one in mind of "The Emperor's New Clothes." It is apparent, however,
that humor at the expense of the local simple people is, in itself, indicative
of the distance of the artist from regular people.
In the first two passages Hawthorne satirizes the empty language that commonly
passes for civilized discourse and, by extension, satirizes those who speak
in such a way. The story strongly suggests that these men are nothing but
scarecrows themselves and indeed, as the third passage states, it is not an
unusual occurrence for a pretty girl like Polly Gookin, empty herself, to
give her heart away to a shadow. The scorn for the
world that the passages imply points to the distance both Mother Rigby
and Hawthorne felt from it.
While the image this passage conjures in the
reader's mind may be largely humorous, it nevertheless echoes a similar
passage in "The Minister's Black Veil," one much darker, in which Reverend
Hooper also sees himself in a mirror and is horrified at the reflection. Both
stories point to the great difficulty of seeing ourselves as we truly are
and it is deeply ironic that the scarecrow uses his epiphany to change while
Reverend Hooper does not.
At the story's conclusion, Mother Rigby decides
against giving Feathertop another chance to make his way in the "empty and
heartless" world they inhabit and instead makes him, as she originally intended,
a scarecrow, an occupation fit for such a one as Feathertop. Before calling
for Dickon to light her pipe, she offers a wry judgment on the vocations of
most of Feathertop's "human brethren."