Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The structure of “Wakefield” is quite simple. An unusual event, a husband’s self-imposed absence, is expanded into a brief moral allegory, a type of story Hawthorne often employed. By claiming in the first paragraph that he took the initial incident from an old newspaper, he lends an air of reality to the strange event. Continuing to address the reader directly, Hawthorne welcomes him or her to an excursion into the remarkable anecdote, for an unusual incident often produces ideas worth considering, he claims. He concludes the introduction with an idea that points to the theme at the end of the story, giving the effect of a neatly wrapped package.

Throughout the story, Hawthorne uses a technique of prompting and leading the reader’s reactions concerning what is happening with the characters. When Wakefield vacillates in deciding to return home, Hawthorne comments, “Poor man!” When Mrs. Wakefield falls ill after her husband’s disappearance, the author injects, “Dear woman! Will she die?” The effect is that the reader is always conscious of the author’s presence and of his guiding the reader’s thoughts. This effect is strengthened by the numerous moralizing passages interspersed throughout the story. The author states early that unusual incidents such as the one on which the story is based have a “moral”; he then scatters didactic passages throughout the story as well as stating the clear moral message in the conclusion.


(The entire section is 495 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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