"Wakefield" has an unusual structure. Hawthorne begins by telling the whole plot in a single sentence.
The man, under pretence of going a journey, took lodgings in the next street to his own house, and there, unheard of by his wife or friends, and without the shadow of a reason for such self-banishment, dwelt upwards of twenty years.
Hawthorne then goes on to philosophize about this incident, which he claims to have read about "in some old magazine or newspaper . . . told as truth." He pretends that neither he nor any of his readers would ever consider doing such a thing.
We know, each for himself, that none of us would perpetrate such a folly, yet feel as if some other might.
But the fact is that many of us, including Hawthorne himself, have fantasized about doing something similar to what was actually done by Wakefield. We identify and emphasize with Wakefield. He is actually experiencing what psychologists call a "fugue state," not unlike those experienced by the girls in Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It seems like a natural human desire to want to escape from the treadmills most of us find ourselves on. Here is a apposite poem by William Butler Yeats:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles
Nine bean-rows I will have there, a hive for the
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace
comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where
the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day.
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Yeats said that he wrote the poem after reading Thoreau's Walden, a famous work in which the American author describes how he escaped from the rat race and lived alone with nature. Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe has been a favorite with readers for many years because it appeals to the fantasy of getting far away from the world. Another book on the same subject, which is not so well known but worth knowing, is George Gissing's The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, a journal in which he tells about the pleasures of being absolutely alone and doing absolutely nothing.
One of Henry James' best short stories is "The Great Good Place." Obviously autobiographical, it tells about a man who has realized his ambition of becoming a successful and highly regarded writer and has lost his own soul.
Then he knew again as well as ever that leaving was difficult, leaving impossible--that the only remedy, the true, soft, effacing sponge, would be to be left, to be forgotten.
Hawthore concludes his story by imagining that Wakefield finally decided to return to his home after twenty years and warns the reader that actually indulging in a fantasy about opting out of the rat race can be dangerous.
. . . by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were, the Outcast of the Universe.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a man who loved solitude and introspection.
For more than twelve years after graduating from Bowdoin, he spent most of his days and nights in a room in his mother’s home, patiently writing pages and pages of manuscripts, many of which he burned.