illustrated portrait of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In the story Drowne's Wooden Image by Nathaniel Hawthorne, explain how Copley feels about Drowne's work. Why does he see the current carving as an exception to what Drowne has done in the past? How does this reveal what Copley values in an artist, and does this have anything to do with Drowne ultimately falling in love with his creation?

Copley sees Drowne’s figures as lifeless and cold, lacking any sign of what he considers an artist to be. He believes that the only artistic skill demonstrated is in the carving of the wood and that Drowne has not reached into his creative spirit to give life to the figures. Copley states that he admires creativity over mere technical skill. The fact that Drowne can make a figure look realistic is not enough for Copley; he wants to see a true demonstration of creativity, which would be giving life to a wooden figure. When Copley sees the statue of "the First-Born" or "Eve,"

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The painter John Singleton Copley, who lived in New England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, appears as a character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s version of the Pygmalion legend. Copley decides that a trip from Boston to Salem to meet the wood carver Drowne is warranted because he is somewhat interested in his work. Copley evaluates Drowne as having “moderate ability” as a carver. When he enters Drowne’s studio, he sees a large quantity of “inflexible images.” He senses a “stolid transformation” that makes it seem as if “a living man had here been changed to wood.” In Copley’s judgment, in the carver’s hands, the wood has not taken in “the ethereal essence of humanity.” The figures he sees merely demonstrate the “mechanical character” of Drowne’s skill.

In a conversation with Drowne, Copley conveys his attitudes toward art as a revelation of creativity as contrasted with technical skill. He stops short of praising Drowne, who immediately realizes that Copley is denigrating his work by saying that one figure, that of General Wolfe, lacks “one other touch” to seem like a genuine human being. Drowne admits to feeling dissatisfied with his works to date, dismissing them as “no better than worthless abortions”; he uses the analogy of painted sign posts compared to Copley’s paintings.

Continuing to look around, Copley sees a work in progress that stands out from all the rest. Astonished, he demands to know whose work it is, as he sees that an “inspired hand is beckoning this wood to arise and live.” Also using the word “divine,” he equates the artist with god-like power to give life. Drowne responds that he knows there is a figure lying within the wooden block and that he must find it. Hearing this insight, Copley declares him “a man of genius!"

As he leaves, Copley introduces the Pygmalion theme, commenting on the passion and warmth he now discerns within the “Yankee mechanic.”

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