Group 1–Hawthorne and Monomania

Why does Wakefield (or Reverend Hooper or Young Goodman Brown) act as he does? As the slides suggest, he bears traits of the “monomaniac,” but that’s hardly the end of the discussion. Is the character you’re looking at out of control of his actions? Deliberate? How do you know? Is the action reasonable in an any sense? Do they have a goal they mean to achieve by their behavior?

5 thoughts on “Group 1–Hawthorne and Monomania

  1. Paolo Gonnelli

    Although it is hardly helpful for an analysis, I couldn’t help but fantasize what kind of mental illness Wakefield might have, in modern terms. Certainly, calling it monomania following Esquirol would be too vague, at times I felt like he was a pathological narcissist at other times it felt like a dissociative disorder of sorts. However, the figure in the story that most struck me was the narrator itself. One of the above questions is if the protagonist is in control of his actions, and if I were to give yes/no question, I would say “no”. That is because the whole story is told from this external point of view that seems to know and even control Wakefield. I had this feeling all throughout as if seeing Wakefield being directed, quite literally, in all of his decisions. Like a director in a play, giving stage directions to an actor. Or in even more modern terms, I could definitely imagine the author as playing a role-play videogame controlling Wakefiled. He says “we must hurry after him along the street” (p. 7) or “he is in the next street to his own, and at his journey’s end” (ibid.) or even more eerie “no mortal eye but mine has traced thee.” (ibid.) Thus, the narrator feels like a god controlling this tiny world in which Wakefield has lost any control or reason. In fact, more than once he seems to want to go back home, and almost immediately attempts to cross his home’s threshold. However, once again the narrator intervenes, breaking the flow of the action, almost as to get in the way of the character rather than being a spectator. For example, “just at the critical moment, he is aroused by the scraping of his foot upon the step [of his house]. Wakefield! whither are you going?” (p. 8)
    Another way to see this is also the view the narrator as a facet of Wakefield’s personality, so then I wonder, was it a multiple personality disorder? Maybe the narrator is a part of the protagonist and is thus part of that internal conflict. Or maybe it is a materialization of the illness itself? At the end of the story it says “stay, Wakefield! Would you go to the sole home that is left you? Then step into your grave!” (p. 12) What to make of it? I wonder, why would the narrator try to stop Wakefield from returning to his wife? Why would he equate it to death?

  2. Timothy DeLorenzo

    The shocking thing about Wakefield is how he defies our expectations of him. He is initially described as benign.”With a cold but not depraved nor wandering heart, and a mind never feverish with riotous thoughts, nor perplexed with originality, who could have anticipated that our friend would entitle himself to a foremost place among the doers of eccentric deeds?” (6). His deviations from our expectations of what his behavior should be lead us to wonder if he is possessed by some sort of madness. Would this story make more sense if Wakefield had a mine that was feverish with riotous thoughts? Is he out of control or does he have dubious control? Does our fictionalization of life make us want to understand actions that seem unexplainable? Is there room in our reality for an unexplainable action? I thought that this sentence was so beautiful. “Would Time but await the close of our favorite follies, we should be young men, all of us, and till Doomsday” (12).

    Causality implies a world stable enough for cause and effect. This calls attention to our need to impose order.The absence of narrative invites madness.

  3. Karianne Laird

    Like the townspeople in Milford, I found myself uncomfortable with the idea of not understanding why the protagonists act as they do in both “The Minister’s Black Veil” and in “Wakefield”. Both protagonists make life altering decisions, seemingly, out of the blue. Both risked their relationships with their wives and left ordinary lives behind for the sake of…what? Throughout the story of “The Minister’s Black Veil” I found myself desperately searching for a reason why Hooper wore the veil, wondering what sin he had committed that I might have overlooked. Like the townspeople, I was more comfortable believing that Hooper had sinned than believing that the veil might be for no purpose at all or maybe a symbol that we and all the townspeople have sinned. I think it is the futility of both characters’ actions that is difficult for the reader to wrap their head around. Furthermore, it is the active control and intentionality of the characters that stumps us. In some ways, maybe it would be more palatable if the characters seemed more mentally unstable? Like Tommy wrote above, their actions seem eerily similar to the sort of “midlife crisis” we often hear of in contemporary discourse. Maybe the eerie part is that we do not quite know how to comprehend people who seem rational but do irrational things. It subtly implies that all the rational people around us are not as predictable as we would like to believe.

    However, the more I contemplated Wakefield the more I realized that although his drastic departure from his normal life is absurd, there are some clear signals that explain his intent. Wakefield is self-important and desperate to see how his wife reacts when he leaves. He, like Hooper, seems to enjoy the feeling of being singled out, despite the oddity of their circumstances. Not only are the characters consumed with an obsession with the black veil and the flight from home, moreover, it seems they are both consumed by an obsession with themselves.

  4. Thomas Dillon

    There is no clear consensus on why Wakefield behaves as he does throughout the course of the story, but it certainly seems as if Wakefield’s actions and motivations are derived from his inability to take any kind of significance away from his mundane, married homelife. It’s eerily similar to the sort of “midlife crisis” we often hear of in contemporary discourse. Wakefield is longing for any kind of exhilaration, adventure, or adrenaline that, in his eyes, cannot otherwise be provided by his current home environment. As a result of this, Wakefield seems to be partially in control of his actions and somewhat deliberate in his intentions to readjust and radically alter the conditions of his lifestyle and environment. However, there does not seem to be a fully established goal in mind as plans out his transition away from his wife and home; it is simply done in an abrupt attempt to alter his surroundings and interactions. Moreover, Wakefield has sociopathic tendencies, stemming from his complete indifference as to how his disappearance might negatively impact his wife’s mental and emotional well-being. Wakefield’s obsession with surviellance raises the idea that he is consumed by paranoia, as he constantly observes his wife and his home from afar, while also displaying genuine fear that his actions may not be unnoticed. Therefore, as the story progresses, Wakefield’s control seemingly slips.

  5. Madison Brito

    While Wakefield’s behavior seems to be driven by a desire to assert his importance as an individual, to drive others to think about him perhaps as excessively as he seems to think about himself, I’m primarily left wondering if he could somehow be aware of the absurdness of his behavior. In my opinion, he is both deliberate and out of control – just because he’s consciously and deliberately choosing to do something does not mean he could stop himself altogether from doing it just with sheer will power. But from my understanding of compulsive disorders, the person is still often aware their behavior appears outwardly nonsensical, and I did not get this feeling at all from Wakefield. The way he is described as playing ‘jokes’ or as ‘unmerciful’ seems to imply he entirely lacks empathy, and how he doesn’t “reflect that he had been saying [he will go back] for twenty years” (11) again suggests he has no idea how others might see this; even if it all makes perfect sense to Wakefield, you get no acknowledgement, but the suggestion of “glimpses of truth” in him, that others wouldn’t perceive it that way. I wonder if that is typical of monomania generally/how it was understood at the time, that the person consumed by the obsession fails to realize a world outside of it?

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