Trent Walters recently put up a very interesting post on Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "Wakefield." This is a story about a man who leaves his wife and home, only to move to a nearby street where he "dwelt upwards of twenty years" unnoticed and free to, in effect, keep observing his wife and the life he has himself left behind.
Trent interprets the story as one about depression:
Again and again, Wakefield nearly leaves, "excited to something like energy of feeling [if he had used his imagination, he could have felt his wife's pain]." Later he tries wake himself up: "Wakefield! Wakefield! You are mad!" Come on. If he's aware of his crime, what's stopping him from rectifying it for twenty years?
He is "unwilling to display his full front to the world," and "an influence beyond our control lays its strong hand on every deed which we do, and weaves its consequences into an iron tissue of necessity. Wakefield is spell-bound." Are these not perfectly apt descriptions of depression? Perhaps in Hawthorne's day he saw the influence as other-worldly. Even when energy breaks the heavy spell of depression, it is too brief to be effective:
[He] throws himself upon the bed. That latent feelings of years break out; his feeble mind acquires a brief energy from their strength.... [His situation] so moulded him to himself, that, considered, in regard to his fellow-creatures and the business of life, he could be said to possess his right mind.
This is a perfectly coherent interpretation of the story (one of my favorite Hawthorne tales, probably one of my favorite short stories period), and I certainly would not decry finding access to such a story, which is admittedly one that invites disparate readings, through discovering in it certain personal resonances. But I would say that it is certainly not the only coherent interpretation of "Wakefield." The protagonist does indeed seem to be characterized by "solitude and self-absorption," and Hawthorne himself could indeed have been described in such terms as well. (Trent goes on to highlight other language Hawthorne uses to describe Wakefield: "his mind occupied itself in long and lazy musings, that ended to no purpose, or had not vigor to attain it; his thoughts were seldom so energetic as to seize hold of words.")
But Hawthorne is quite self-conscious in portraying Wakefield in this way. It is not the sort of portait by which the words seem to hide another, different and unconscious meaning. And Wakefield shares the attributes of some of Hawthorne's other characters, particularly the narrator of The Blithedale Romance, who agrees to join an experimental New England commune but finds himself mostly withdrawing from the whole scene in order to observe it more closely. (At one point he climbs up a tree so he can observe and listen to two of his fellow members without being noticed.) More than anything else, in my opinion, these characters embody the habitual attitude of the writer: solitary, detached, to some extent isolated from his own feelings in favor of heightened observation of others and the world around him. Although obviously he isn't a writer, Wakefield nevertheless seems to me a portait of the artist, not of the human being behind the artist's demeanor, but of the behavior the artist is almost compelled to exhibit in order to be an artist.
And insofar as this behavior can be self-destructive, oblivious to the effects it has on other people, arises from impulses the human being perhaps can't even control, Hawthorne also seems to condemn it.