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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 219

This is the story of Mr Wakefield, a husband and a father of three children. He is a reserved man and one that seems to love his family given that he has been married for 10 years. Therefore, the events that follow are a mystery to most readers. One October evening, Mr. Wakefield decides to wear his drab coat and his hat and takes an umbrella and decides to leave his London apartment claiming that he is going to the countryside. He gives Mrs. Wakefield a kiss and tells her not to be alarmed in case he doesn't return after 3 days. His wife looks at him suspiciously as he walks away but doesn't take the remark too seriously. Interestingly, Mr. Wakefield goes and rents another apartment just across the street from his and decides to observe how his family reacts to his disappearance. At first, it seemed that he was only going to stay there for more than a week, but weeks turn to months, and months become years. He keeps the charade going for twenty years, making excuses and avoiding confrontation. Finally, he decides that he is going to go back home as if he never left for 20 years. Just as he is about to walk in, the author cuts the story and engages the readers and characters directly.


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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 674

Wakefield is a middle-aged man living in London, in a comfortable home with his wife of ten years. He has an “inactive mind,” a peculiar “vanity,” a “harmless love of mystery,” a certain “selfishness” and “strangeness.” One October evening, he tells his wife good-bye before leaving by coach for a journey into the country. Knowing his love of mystery, she does not inquire into the details of his trip. He tells her not to be alarmed if he does not return for three or four days but to expect him on Friday evening. She later recalls the “crafty smile” on his face as he departs.

Instead of going on a journey, he takes an apartment on the next street with a vague plan of observing the effect of his absence on his wife. Alone in the apartment, he seems to realize the inanity of what he is doing. However, as time goes by, he is overcome with curiosity about the effect of his disappearance. Vanity lies at the root of his project. He watches his house to see how life proceeds without him but is fearful of being recognized. Consequently, he buys a red wig and unusual clothes to effect a disguise. Three weeks after his disappearance, Wakefield observes a physician entering his house; he knows that his wife is ill, but he tells himself that he must not disturb her at such a time. He expects that she may die and even seems to desire subconsciously to harm her. He cannot bring himself to return. When his wife recovers, Wakefield is vaguely aware that an “almost impassable gulf” separates him from her and from his former life. In due time, Mrs. Wakefield settles her husband’s estate and proceeds with her life as a widow. Nathaniel Hawthorne comments that Wakefield has virtually no more chance of returning to his old life than if he were actually dead.

For ten years, Wakefield watches his house and observes his wife as best he can. He loses any feeling that his actions are strange. One day, he sees Mrs. Wakefield on her way to church. Jostled by the crowd into bodily contact, they look into each other’s eyes, but she fails to recognize him. Returning to his lonely room, he falls on the bed and passionately cries out that he is mad. It is the only time that he seems to be emotionally moved. He has postponed his return from month to month, year to year, with one feeble excuse or another, until now he is in limbo, neither dead nor truly alive. He has retained “his original share of human sympathies,” is “still involved in human interests,” but has lost “his reciprocal influence on them.” However, he has no clear concept of how he has changed and continues to think that he could return home the same man who departed years earlier.

In the last scene, twenty years after Wakefield’s departure, he takes his usual walk to his house, which he still considers his own. Again it is autumn, and he sees through a window a fire on the hearth and on the ceiling, a “grotesque shadow” of Mrs. Wakefield, a “caricature.” When a chilling rain begins to fall, he suddenly considers it ridiculous to stand outside when the comforts of his home are just beyond the door. He enters with the same “crafty” smile on his face that he wore when he first left. Instead of following Wakefield inside, the author comments: “Stay, Wakefield! Would you go to the sole home that is left you? Then step into your grave!” The story then concludes with a moral such as Hawthorne promised at the beginning:Amid the seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely adjusted to a system, and systems to one another and to a whole, that, 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.

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