English 432: American Romanticism and Transcendentalism
Dr. Dawn Coleman
Critical Essay Worksheet for Ellen Weinauer, “The Meanings of Marriage in ‘Wakefield’”
Due: Thursday, January 31, in class. Bring a hard copy to class and submit online under Assignments. For your hard copy, please single space and print double-sided (if possible).
Directions: Please answer the questions below, following the guidelines for written assignments on the syllabus. When you quote from the essay, be sure to include the page number.
1. Find one or two sentences that seem to you to be the essay’s primary thesis statement. Note that the thesis statement of a literary critical article is a succinct version of the essay’s main interpretive point, or intervention in the critical conversation around a literary text (here, “Wakefield”). Quote the essay’s thesis verbatim here. Then paraphrase it; that is, restate it in your own words, with minimal borrowing from the original wording but with about the same level of detail.
a. “But even as Nathaniel revels in the transformational powers of marriage—‘what is to be mingled with another’s being!’ (15:495), he marvels---he also frets at that same power, which bears witness to the uncertainties of identity itself: ‘[I]s it not a somewhat fearful thought,’ he queries, ‘that a few slight circumstances might have prevented us from meeting, and then I never should have been created at all!’” pg. 95
b. “In the image of the Dove nested in his bosom, Hawthorne provides a romantic redaction of a legal concept that had migrated to the American colonies from England: the principle of marital unity… In his letter to Sophia, Nathaniel appears to celebrate in emotional terms precisely the legal process of ‘incorporation and consolidation’ that Blackstone describes—for that process has, he insists, given him substance, even selfhood.”
i. The legal process of marriage was not only a legal contract but a social one as well. Weinauer goes into discussing the relation between marriage and self. After marriage one’s identity changes to suit the nature of marriage. The wife is seen as part of the husband, her identity is comprised solely of his. The husband however can still be a “man” and a husband. He is not entirely made of his wife. The two are represented differently and we see that in “Wakefield”
2. Weinauer sets “Wakefield” in historical context by reading it against changing conceptions of marriage in the nineteenth century, which evolved in tandem with legal changes related to the institution. Without addressing Hawthorne’s story, summarize in a substantial paragraph (at least five sentences) how marriage changed in the nineteenth-century, based on the information provided in this essay. Be sure to address the distinction between marriage as contract and as status.
a. Marriage was very disabling for women prior to its change. Women were seen as part of their husband. They could not own property, claim wages,...