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Coverdak looks on. From Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance (London: Service andPaton, 1899), 250. "His Delirious Solace": Consummation,Consumption, and Reform in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance GALE TEMPLE INTRODUCTION: RESTLESS CITIZENSHIP In Forty Years of American Life, 1821—1861, Thomas Low Nichols, a nineteenth-century physician and social critic, suggests that contentment with one's position in the socioeconomic hierarchy is antithetical to American life. Citizenship, for Nichols, is characterized by an endless struggle between actual and ideal selves, between the mundane reality of one's existing class status and the fantasy of the fulfilled self that the American marketplace forever dangles just beyond reach. Nichols writes: There is no such thing in America as being contented with one's position or condition. The poor struggle to be rich, the rich to be richer. Every one is tugging, trying, scheming to advance —to get ahead. It is a great scramble, in which all are troubled and none are satisfied. In Europe, the poor man, as a rule, knows that he must remain poor, and he submits to his lot, and tries to make the best of it. . . . Not so in America. Every other little ragged boy dreams of being President or millionaire. The dream may be a pleasant one while it lasts, but what of the disappointing reality? What of the excited, FSQ I V. 49 I 4TH QUARTER | 2003 285 GALE TEMPLE restless, feverish life spent in the pursuit of phantoms?1 Nichols suggests that resistance to self-consummation is both a characteristic marker of American citizenship and an unremitting source of disappointment and disillusionment. Americans restlessly pursue "phantoms" and lose sight of what Nichols would view as more authentic sources of pleasure and fulfillment in their lives.· the "domestic affections, " the "chief source of human happiness."2 Nichols's critique represents an appropriate paradigm for reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 novel, The Blithedale Romance . The communal farm of Blithedale fails, Hawthorne implies, for many of the same reasons Nichols believes American citizenship fails: Its participants' notions of reform and citizenship are, from the start, wedded to a market-friendly vision of ideal selfhood; consequently, they resist both selfand social consummation. This resistance in turn precludes the primary male characters in Hawthorne's text—the narrator Coverdale and the hyper-masculine reformer Hollingsworth— from allowing their female or working-class counterparts a sense of what Christopher Newfield calls "reciprocal influence and agency," for they view women as the always deferred and always objectified visions of their own other-oriented self-fulfillment .3 In other words, they see women and impoverished members of the working class as commodities that exist to serve the impossible realization of their own ideal selves.4 The inequality of this dynamic both results from and fosters a persistent sense of entitlement that denies subjectivity and agency to women, despite the fact that the Blithedale enterprise, much like the Brook Farm community on which it is modeled, promises new forms of equality and liberation to women.5 My argument is informed, in part, by the work of Sacvan Bercovitch on the legacy of the Puritan jeremiad and by the writings of Marxist theorist Marshall Berman. Bercovitch argues that the jeremiad, or the spiritual lament, was far more than just a common rhetorical trope for the Puritans: Simultaneously critiquing a current fallen state of affairs and anticipating an amended future, it structured in fundamental ways 286 CONSUMMATION AND REFORM IN BLITHEDALE how the Puritans thought of themselves and their collective destiny. And it inaugurated an ideological pattern that still characterizes the history of America's sense of itself as a collectivity . In Bercovitch's words: [The American jeremiad] made anxiety its end as well as its means. Crisis was the social norm it sought to inculcate. The very concept of errand , after all, implied a state of unfulfillment. The future, though divinely assured, was never quite there, and New England's Jeremiahs set out to provide the sense of insecurity that would ensure the outcome. Denouncing or affirming , their vision fed on the distance between promise and fact.6 The jeremiad created enduring anxiety over the need to remedy existing conditions so they will be more consistent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 285-321
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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