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>Excerpt from <i>The Fragility of Manhood: Hawthorne, Freud, and the Politics of Gender</i>

Excerpt from Chapter 4, The Fragility of Manhood: Hawthorne, Freud, and the Politics of Gender (The Ohio State University Press, 2012) by David Greven

Hawthorne's responses to the young men he created went beyond moral skepticism. He views the beautiful young man with an empathetic fearfulness at the power of the gaze--not an avaricious desire to wield it but rather a desire to avoid falling under it. As "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" reveals, for Hawthorne narcissism is a welter of anxieties that revolve around the figure of the young man, anxieties that become especially intense if the young man is also pleasing visually. The disjunct between exterior and interior self Hawthorne consistently thematizes extends the Narcissus myth and its phobic, cautionary associations with the disparity between surface and depth. Hawthorne further intensifies the implications of the Narcissus theme by combining it with his ongoing concern with vision. This concern leads, in turn, to Hawthorne's development of shame. Shame is a crucial component of Hawthorne's work, perhaps because it is the affect that he chiefly associates with vision, the sense he most exhaustively examines in all of its psychological and aesthetic complexity. The shame that proceeds in Hawthorne from vision relates, in my view, to the gendered anxieties at work in the Narcissus myth, which renders vision such a vexed and troubling phenomenon. Vision in Hawthorne can signify either shame or an attempt at sadistic visual mastery, such as, if we follow Freud, voyeurism and other forms of visual violation. In the figure of the young man, Hawthorne collapses shameful and sadistic forms of looking: the young man experiences shame at both looking and being looked at, but also sadistically exerts power over the other characters through his eyes. Hawthorne's work abounds with sight metaphors and visual media-- paintings, portraits, mirrors, miniatures, sculptures, carvings--and with lookers, most often ambiguous male figures, whose desire to see others invasively crosses the line into voyeurism. In addition to those already mentioned, such figures include the titular protagonist of "Wakefield," who installs himself as a perpetual watcher of his own life in his absence; Chillingworth, who spies on Dimmesdale, just as Coverdale spies on his fellow Blithedalers from his "inviolate bower" up in a tree; and the Model, who spies on Miriam in The Marble Faun. These fictional males participate in voyeuristic schemes that are illuminated by Mulvey's theory of the male gaze, in which she argues that the male protagonist in classical Hollywood cinema dominates the woman through vision, either voyeuristically (investigating the woman and solving her mystery) or fetishistically (breaking her up into idealized components, eyes, faces, and so forth) Moreover, Mulvey argues that the spectator, also gendered male, joins in with the screen protagonist in a shared experience of narcissistic omnipotence.

 



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