Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 378
In "Wakefield," a middle-aged man who has both a "quiet selfishness" and "a peculiar sort of vanity" leaves his wife for twenty years, living one street away so that he can regularly spy on her. He learns that once a person leaves home, they become changed forever, so that home can never feel the same as it used to. He becomes the "Outcast of the Universe." Many people have wondered how the people in their lives might respond if they suddenly disappeared or died, and Wakefield learns a rather unfortunate truth: while he is missed for a while, life does go on, and people must go on with the business of living, even in his absence.
Wakefield seems somewhat gratified to learn that his wife becomes quite ill after his disappearance:
Dear woman! Will she die? By this time, Wakefield is excited to something like energy of feeling . . .
Knowing that his absence has affected her so dramatically seems to please him, to awaken some excitement in him. However, as the narrator says, eventually the "crisis is over; her heart is sad, perhaps, but . . . it will never be feverish for him again." His "good" and "decent" wife must move on, and she finds a way to do so. Eventually, she develops the "placid mien of settled widowhood."
To this end, the narrator says, "Poor Wakefield! Little knowest thou thine own insignificance in this great world!" Wakefield constantly worries that he'll be seen and reported by his wife or his former servants, and he fails to realize the simple truth that no one is paying that much attention to him. We see his vanity in his belief that he will be noticed. He becomes an outcast from his own home relatively quickly. He doesn't quite realize it, but what he experiences
is caused by the comparison and contrast between [his] imperfect reminiscences and the reality [of his life and home].
It evidently does not occur to Wakefield that "home" will never feel quite like it did before he left it. He has changed, as a result of his leaving, and life has gone on without him. In a manner of speaking, he can never go back to the place he left, because his perception of that place is forever altered.