Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The structure of “Wakefield” is quite simple. An unusual event, a husband’s self-imposed absence, is expanded into a brief moral allegory, a type of story Hawthorne often employed. By claiming in the first paragraph that he took the initial incident from an old newspaper, he lends an air of reality to the strange event. Continuing to address the reader directly, Hawthorne welcomes him or her to an excursion into the remarkable anecdote, for an unusual incident often produces ideas worth considering, he claims. He concludes the introduction with an idea that points to the theme at the end of the story, giving the effect of a neatly wrapped package.

Throughout the story, Hawthorne uses a technique of prompting and leading the reader’s reactions concerning what is happening with the characters. When Wakefield vacillates in deciding to return home, Hawthorne comments, “Poor man!” When Mrs. Wakefield falls ill after her husband’s disappearance, the author injects, “Dear woman! Will she die?” The effect is that the reader is always conscious of the author’s presence and of his guiding the reader’s thoughts. This effect is strengthened by the numerous moralizing passages interspersed throughout the story. The author states early that unusual incidents such as the one on which the story is based have a “moral”; he then scatters didactic passages throughout the story as well as stating the clear moral message in the conclusion.


(The entire section is 495 words.)

Wakefield Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bell, Millicent, ed. Hawthorne and the Real: Bicentennial Essays. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Hester Prynne. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.

Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Davis, Clark. Hawthorne’s Shyness: Ethics, Politics, and the Question of Engagement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Mellow, James R. Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.

Miller, Edward Havilland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.

Millington, Richard H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Moore, Margaret B. The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998.

Muirhead, Kimberly Free. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”: A Critical Resource Guide and Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Literary Criticism, 1950-2000. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.

Newman, Lea Bertani Vozar. A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979.

Pennell, Melissa McFarland. Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Scharnhorst, Gary. The Critical Response to Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” New York: Greenwood Press, 1992.

Stoehr, Taylor. Hawthorne’s Mad Scientists. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978.

Thompson, G. R. The Art of Authorial Presence: Hawthorne’s Provincial Tales. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1993.

Von Frank, Albert J., ed. Critical Essays on Hawthorne’s Short Stories. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1991.