The Blithedale Romance

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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What are the principles of the Blithedale community in The Blithedale Romance?

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The Blithedale romance is a critique of the utopian experiments of the nineteenth century. It critiques what people were trying to achieve and how they tried to achieve it. The novel shows Hawthorne's skepticism towards the idea that utopia could be achieved by good will alone. His characters often fail because they do not understand basic human nature, and they do not want to face reality as it is.

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In general, the purpose of the Blithedale community was in line with many utopian communes of the nineteenth century. People joined together in a working community in an attempt to prove that a perfect—or at least, nearly-perfect—way of life could be achieved: a life that the current society didn't offer....

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The utopian society is based on Hawthorne's own experience at Brook Farm, one such historical community.

In chapter 3, Coverdale, the narrator, delineates some of the idealism that brought the group together. They had determined to do away with pride in favor of love. They would abandon all their private possessions and personal aspirations in order to band together with other community members to improve the world. They wanted to show the world a better way to live.

They didn't want to use force to get the wealth of others for themselves, either by taking it from someone stronger or by oppressing someone weaker. They wanted to work with their own hands, putting their own physical labor into creating their sustenance. As they did so, they would not be motivated by competition with others but instead would show how cooperation was superior.

Summarizing the idealistic fervor that drove them, Coverdale notes that they considered their efforts a means of "the advancement of our race." They were going to show that people could do better and be better through cooperative endeavor. Even at this early point in the novel, Coverdale hints that the experiment was not successful. Yet he doesn't regret the naive optimism that bred the plan:

In my own behalf I rejoice that I could once think better of the world's improvability than it deserved.
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In Hawthorne's TheBlithedale Romance, the inhabitants are idealists who profess to want to build a better world through the alternative lifestyle of farming together communally and sharing their goods. Like Thoreau, a contemporary of Hawthorne's, they have confronted the dreary mundanity of early-nineteenth-century middle-class life and have found it wanting. They, instead, want to live more purely and fully, focusing on building lives based on loving kindness rather than self-interest. In true American tradition, they hope their community will light the way for others to reform their lives.

Blithedale is based on the kind of real utopias or communal living experiments that were springing up in Hawthorne's time period. It is especially based on Brook Farm, a communal experiment which Hawthorne helped to begin. As in real life, most of the idealistic proponents of the natural life have no experience with farming, and as Hawthorne notes in his preface, the experiment is largely a "daydream."

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Blithedale as a community is an experiment in socialism.  Its supporters are seeking "a better life", and hope through their endeavors to achieve "the reformation of the world", changing its "destiny".  In a spirit of cooperation, they plan to learn "the art of husbandry", so that, with each individual doing his or her share, they might live off the land, establishing a system better than "the society that shackled (them)" (Chapter 2).

The experiment is being undertaken to break "through many hindrances that are powerful enough to keep most people on the weary tread-mill of the established system".  The participants resolve to step "down from the pulpit...(fling) aside the pen...shut up the ledger...(throw) indolence", for the express purpose of "showing mankind the example of a life governed by other than the false and cruel principles, on which human society has all along been based".  They determine to "divorce (them)selves from supply its place with familiar lessen the laboring man's great burthen of toil, by performing (their) due share of profit by mutual aid, instead of wresting it by the strong hand from an enemy, or filching it craftily from those less shrewd than (them)selves...or winning it by selfish competition with a neighbor".  Instead, they will each selflessly "offer up the earnest toil of (their) bodies...for the advancement of (their) race" (Chapter 3).

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