Group 3–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?

7 thoughts on “Group 3–Hawthorne and Monomania

  1. Haley Glover

    Wakefield’s years of monomania appear to anyone of normalized society as an episode of the uncontrolled mind. While it is clear Wakefield is experiencing a change of character and feelings of inadequacy, his departure from Mrs. Wakefield does not appear to be an act of mania, but instead, as Joseph mentioned, an attempt to elevate his self-worth. Yet, Wakefield does not linger on this motive as a monomaniac would, instead he becomes lost in the invisibility of hermitude and the departure from ties of societal obligation. When describing Wakefield’s “spell-bound” state Hawthorne states, “an influence beyond our control lays its strong hand on every deed which we do, and weaves its consequences into an iron tissue of necessity” (10). Hawthorne does not limit this phenomenon to only Wakefield, but includes his audience, suggesting that we all are controlled by some invisible hand. This hand, for Wakefield, appears to be the city and society of London. At the beginning of the story, Wakefield’s character is described as a rather monochrome individual of stagnant emotion. Hawthorne states, “he was now in the meridian of life; his matrimonial affections, never violent, were sobered into a calm, habitual sentiment…” (5). More of habit than passion, it is here I think Wakefield does not appear to be in control of his mind. Instead, his mind is controlled by societal bounds of marriage and domesticity founded in habit.
    Here I diverge from Alexandra and Joseph’s understandings of Wakefield as being not in control of his actions. There is no mistaking Wakefield is embroiled in the internal conflict of returning home or remaining a stranger to all. Fighting his compulsion for individuality, Wakefield’s habitual nature threatens to return him to a life where he appears to lack agency. Much like the strong controlling hand mentioned above, Hawthorne explains that, “Habit– for he is a man of habits–takes him by the hand, and guides him, wholly unaware, to his own door” (8). Rather than battling insanity, Wakefield fights his habitual compulsions and breaks himself apart from the whole; an act that is by all means not of the right mind within the system. Yet, from Wakefield’s perspective, as a member broken from the whole, there is a relatively rational motive to be only himself not tied to a wife, community, or city. Wakefield’s anxieties of missing societal life and becoming an outcast are clear, and account for his questioning of his own sanity throughout the story. However, he remains steady in his decision and returns only when no one is looking for him and when he is as invisible as the hand that once held his mind.

  2. Joseph Levine

    While Hooper and Brown’s monomaniacal episodes were more easily attributable (namely to religious fervor) Wakefield’s episode was more confounding. He departs from his wife in similar fashion as Goodman Brown, telling her in feigned high spirits that he may “tarry three or four days” (6). The object of his departure is vague, but like the other two men, he is seemingly possessed by a guiding force that prevents him from reconsidering his decision. He does, however, nearly return home both by habit and contemplation laying in “the wide and solitary waste of the unaccustomed bed”. This quality of obsessive devotion is characteristic of monomania. Yet unlike other forms of mania, this monomania is completely unrelenting, as Brown, Hooper, and Wakefield maintain their delusions for decades if not the entirety of their remaining lives.

    Initially, Wakefield’s escape appears to be a product of a deficit in character; he derives self-worth from his wife longing from him, and he appears to feel no remorse for the pain he causes. While it is clear that Wakefield is not sane owing to the absurdity of his measures, Hawthorne seems to attribute the suffocating isolation of living in London as being the catalyst for his actions. Among the anonymity and gloom of the city, Wakefield seems to question his own existence. Inexplicably, he uses his wife’s mourning to reassure himself that he is not just a meaningless member of the city. Why he feels the need to make his wife feel pain to achieve this goal is unclear. I noticed that cross all three stories the husband-wife interactions are central to the monomaniacal episodes, and I am curious to know what Hawthorne’s motive behind these parallels are. Interestingly, too, is Wakefield eventually does return to his wife, while Brown and Hooper take their monomaniacal motives to the grave without reconciliation.

  3. William Koch

    I echo Dan and Michael’s assertions that Reverend Hooper’s moral obsession bears traits of monomania. He states outwardly that his decision to wear the black veil is a symbol, but it a symbol taken too far such that it ostracizes himself from the community he supposedly tries to better through the presentation of the symbol. It is difficult to argue if he has a clear goal with his behavior, and while he asserts control in his decision to apply the black veil, its destruction of his personal relationships and public perception suggests that he loses original control.

    While Mr. Hooper’s moral obsession is certainly monomaniacal, I wonder, too, if one might characterize the town’s fascination with the veil as verging on monomaniacal. I don’t suggest that Hooper’s obsession with the veil is reasonable, but I do think it is strange the manner in which the town initially approaches the issue of the veil. As the narrator suggests, they do not directly approach Reverend Hooper as to why he wears the veil, but rather linger in fear of the veil. Ultimately, however, their reactions to the veil are more psychologically reasonable than Hooper’s decision to wear it.

    Finally, there is a certain irony in characterizing Hooper as a monomaniac given that the standards for diagnosis at the time rested so heavily upon physiognomy and facial identification. Elizabeth and town members postulate that the reverend conceals his face because he hides a secret sin, and in a sense they may be right. While Hooper does not indicate a self-awareness of his monomania, his shielding of his face prevents a 19th-century visual diagnosis.

  4. Alexandra Lawson

    Wakefield, while largely bearing traits of the ‘monomaniac’, does appear to have some initial goals or impetus behind his actions. As discussed in the slides, he wants to be missed or longed for by his wife, which is likely why he continually returns to check on her. Upon seeing her initial anguish, he seems to take some sort of delight in the fact that she will die, “excited to something like energy of feeling” (9). But he appears unable to recognize these deep-rooted goals, blind to the things driving his actions. Continually he considers returning, only to change his mind: “Not tomorrow-probably next week- pretty soon” (10). He is unable to recognize that he has been saying this for over twenty years! In fact “he had contrived, or rather he had happened, to dissever himself from the world….” (11) without this even really intending to. Similar to what Dan discussed about Reverend Hooper, I think what really makes Wakefield fit under the category of a ‘monomaniac’ is the fact that he appears to be acting without an understanding of why he is acting that way. While initially his goal may have been somewhat identifiable (yet still not truly rational), by the end he appears merely pulled around by motives, not outwardly visible to either himself or the reader.

  5. Dan Cielak

    Hawthorn’s account of Reverend Hooper actions in the story falls in line with what I would associate with a monomaniac. Based on the text, Reverend Hooper seems to be in physical control of his actions, but displays an utter sense of moral strife that prohibits him from acting reasonably. For example, he does not want Elizabeth to leave him, and tries to assure her that one day the veil will come off, but cannot even take his veil off for a brief second and make his actions seem a bit less drastic. He is almost repulsed by the thought of normalcy and would prefer to conceal himself rather than submit to the pressures of others, even those he loves. Likewise, he attends a wedding, which is usually an event that Mr. Hooper “has a placid cheerfulness for,” but because he wore his black veil, he disturbed the guests and even frightened himself after looking at his own reflection (3). The black veil clearly causes him to feel pain, but he cannot help but continue to wear it. His decision to wear his veil until his death feels like a moral compulsion that is meant to stir the people of Milford. And, perhaps at first, the veil was meant to make his parishioners reflect on how they hide themselves from others, but after a certain point, it seems as though Mr. Hooper looses sight of his original intention and just tries to satisfy some internal goal of being morally better than everyone else.

  6. Michael Frank

    Mr. Hooper’s concealing of his face as an average person conceals their own true nature proves to be obsessive to the point of completely uprooting his ability to function in his community. The note at the end of the story offers a contrasting scenario, though the referenced minister covering his face did so in mourning, rather than to decry the state of his soul and all mankind. This indictment of the single-minded nature of Puritain culture is consistent with Hawthorne’s other work, particularly The Scarlet Letter.

    Without offering a proper diagnosis, Mr. Hooper clearly is suffering from an affliction of monomania, specifically a moral obsession, though one that presents as deliberate. In refusing to remove his veil, he indicts his entire community’s artifice, though perhaps without inherently bettering himself. It remains unclear how he actually believes one could open themself to their neighbor and to God, but as Father Hooper would probably forecast, “On earth, never!” Much like in The Scarlet Letter, zeal replaces reason under the guise of societal betterment.

    1. Michael Frank

      UPDATED: Mr. Hooper’s concealing of his face as an average person conceals their own true nature proves to be obsessive to the point of completely uprooting his ability to function in his community. The note at the end of the story offers a contrasting scenario, though the referenced minister covering his face did so in mourning, rather than to decry the state of his soul and all mankind. This indictment of the single-minded nature of Puritain culture is consistent with Hawthorne’s other work, particularly The Scarlet Letter.

      Without offering a proper diagnosis, Mr. Hooper clearly is suffering from an affliction of monomania, specifically a moral obsession, though one that presents as deliberate. In refusing to remove his veil, he indicts his entire community’s artifice, though perhaps without inherently bettering himself. It remains unclear how he actually believes one could open themself to their neighbor and to God, but as Father Hooper would probably forecast, “On earth, never!” Much like in The Scarlet Letter, zeal replaces reason under the guise of societal betterment.

Leave a Reply