“Wakefield” has an unusual form: It is part story and part essay. The author does not try to conceal his presence, as is usually done by fiction writers for the sake of achieving greater verisimilitude, but actually invites the reader to participate with him in creating the story and deducing a moral. Instead of aiming at suspense, Hawthorne gives the whole plot away in one sentence: “The man, under pretence of going on 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.” The form resembles a musical composition in which the theme is stated at the beginning and then embellished with variations until it is recapitulated at the end. The story is a masterpiece: It demonstrates Hawthorne’s imagination and artistic skill. It also has a haunting effect, like a beautiful but elusive melody.
“Wakefield” is not only a psychological study but also a sociological study. How is it possible for a person to be swallowed up so completely by a big city that he is able to live undetected for twenty years within one block of his wife’s residence and never bump into any of the friends who believe him to be dead? That he would wish to do it at all is strange enough, but the fact that this story is regarded as one of Hawthorne’s finest creations shows that many readers are able to identify with Wakefield....
(The entire section is 509 words.)