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Edgar Allan Poe’s Critique of Hawthorne: Wakefield

Edgar Allan Poe describes Nathanial Hawthorne’s work as being “of the highest merit” and the writing of “a high genius.” Poe names Hawthorne as one of the few exceptional American prose tale authors because of his “invention, creation, imagination, [and] originality,” manifested in both plot and stylistic tone. As evidenced through his essay, Poe uses both logos and ethos to convince readers of Hawthorne’s brilliance and success as an author. In particular, Edgar Allan Poe highlights a specific defining characteristic of Hawthorne’s writing which sets him apart from all other authors of the time: his undeniable originality.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s individuality as an author presents itself through several facets, beginning with voice. Hawthorne narrates the story, while simultaneously speaking to the reader, and directly addressing Wakefield, the tale’s protagonist. When speaking to the reader, Nathaniel Hawthorne makes it seem as though the audience is watching the events unfold before their eyes by using language such as “watch him” and “cast your eyes” (400). Additionally, Hawthorne seeks to create a universal empathy among his readers by pulling broad ideas from specific situations and delivering them as relatable messages which can be applied to anyone’s life. He consistently uses the pronoun “we” as a device used to engage with the reader and create a connection. Though most do not make the peculiar decision to disappear and spy on his or her spouse for two decades before returning, “ordinary cases” of such a theme present themselves as the balance between “our imperfect reminiscences and the reality” (398). He will then turn his attention to the characters and offer his opinions on their decisions and demeanor, noting Wakefield’s “sluggish temperament” and selfishly “morbid vanity”(398-399). Finally, Hawthorne speaks directly to Mr. Wakefield, calling him a “fool” and advising him to “stay” outside the apartment (399-401). His ability to maintain a central focus on the story while harmoniously intertwining three varied views and voices makes him unique.

Poe further illuminates Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ability to maintain a calm tone while still offering unexpected and imaginative actions. Hawthorne builds suspense in a tranquil manner through eloquent diction and syntax. At the climax of his tale, Hawthorne conveys action with a serene demeanor, describing “two figures” “touching” “face to face” and “staring into each other’s eyes” (401). As evidenced through the peculiarly slow speed of the plot’s climax, he divulges yet another aspect of inventiveness through mellow word choice. By using language such as “whim-wham,” Hawthorne keeps his writing both fresh and unique, and appeals to the reader’s humor (399). As Poe mentions, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing flows with such rhythm, the reader becomes swept up in his phrases, enabling him to introduce seemingly obvious parallels which the audience was too focused to devise themselves. For example, Hawthorne connects Wakefield’s life to that of a hermit’s, noting that Wakefield stands invisible to the “crowd” around him, “interested” “in human” interaction, yet entirely uninvolved in such affairs (400). Additionally, in the midst of delicate humor and thought provoking questions, Nathaniel Hawthorne includes profound analysis of the moral standings of characters. After twenty years without word from her husband, he explains Mrs. Wakefield’s regrets as having “become so essential to her heart,” they now “poorly” masqueraded “as joy” (400). Finally, Hawthorne clearly illuminates a universal “truth” and moral to be gleaned from the story. His direct assertion and commentary on life as the “Outcast of the Universe” provides a refreshing flavor, rather than leaving the reader to uncover the message unassisted (401). With poignant, colorful language and captivating ideas, Hawthorne reveals his “truest genius” and proves Poe’s point: Americans “feel proud” to have had such a marvelous author in the United States.

Edgar Allan Poe
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne














Read Poe’s opinion of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing here.

Published inHonors Assignment

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