The World Turned Strange: Rereading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Wakefield’ in Self-Isolation

Hiroyuki Inoue

Abstract


This short, informal essay is about my experience of rereading Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Wakefield’ in this time of social distancing. After a brief description of my personal struggle with remote teaching, the essay moves on to discuss the short story. Hawthorne’s story of an enigmatic character who isolates himself from his familiar environment for twenty years resonates with the current circumstances in a strange manner. Employing the concept of the uncanny, a mixture of the familiar and the strange that seems to lie at the bottom of Hawthorne’s poetics, the essay discusses how distancing and estrangement function at multiple levels in this story. Then it goes on to show how solitude makes it possible to look at familiar objects from a different perspective by making them strange and unfamiliar. Hawthorne shows the possible danger of totally separating oneself from his or her surroundings, but at the same time he describes how solitude forces his protagonist to measure his previous life through self-isolation. At the end, the essay shifts back to my personal narrative as a reader encountering the mysterious character with renewed eyes. Due to the current situation, this apparently strange story has become something close, making it possible for me to forge an interactive relationship across a spatial and temporal distance.

Keywords


rereading fiction; self-isolation; social distancing; solitude; uncanny; alienation

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References


Hawthorne, N. (1982) Tales and sketches. Edited by Roy Harvey Pearce. New York: Library of America.

Hawthorne, N. (2005) The scarlet letter and other writings. Edited by Leland S. Person. New York: W. W. Norton.

Hones, S. (2008) ‘Text as it happens: Literary geography.’ Geography Compass, 2(5), pp. 1301-1317.

Koch, P. (1994) Solitude: A philosophical encounter. Chicago: Open Court.

Royle, N. (2003) The uncanny. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Trigg, D. (2012) The memory of place: A phenomenology of the uncanny. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Vidler, A. (1992) The architectural uncanny: Essays in the modern unhomely. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Wineapple, B. (2004) Hawthorne: A life. New York: Random House.


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