excerpt from The Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne
In this excerpt from The Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne by Melissa
McFarland Pennell, she discusses Hawthorne’s doubts about reform movements
expressed in his novel, The Blithedale Romance. (courtesy of Greenwood Press)
“Writing a romance set in his own day, Hawthorne confronts numerous issues that shaped the world of mid-nineteenth-century America. It was an age marked by enthusiasm for reform at both the individual and national levels. Many of those who embraced reform projects held an optimistic view of the potential for human beings to change. As in many of his works, Hawthorne suggests that there are some underlying aspects of human nature and behavior that remain constant, despite the outward changes in environment and culture. In addition to his questions about the possibility of reform, Hawthorne also considers the problem of public identity and the debate over gender roles and expectations.
Nineteenth-century interest in utopian communities grew out of the Romantic belief, influenced by social philosophers like Rousseau, that humans are essentially good but corrupted by their social environment. Proponents argued that if the social environment was restructured, more positive aspects of human nature would predominate. The members of the Blithedale project consciously oppose the social structure of their day. Coverdale explains that the community at Blithedale ‘sought our profit by mutual aid, instead of wresting it by the strong hand from an enemy, or filching it craftily from those less shrew than ourselves…or winning it by selfish competition with a neighbor’ (648)” (121-122).