October 26, 2013

Was the Utopian Project a Failure?

One of the strange and interesting things about Hawthorne’s novel was his choice of having the action play out against the backdrop of a self-sufficient, utopian commune. At first glance it would appear that the commune is a failure – all of the named characters that were part of the commune end up leaving, and at the end of the novel Coverdale reflecting that its failure was “well deserved, for [its] infidelity to its own higher spirit.”

What I find strange here is that we see no others, bar the central four, leave the commune for any reason. And the reasons for the protagonists leaving aren’t at all to do with the daily labour of running the commune, or with its place in the larger economic system of the country (its exact Geographical location is unspecified though). In fact every indication of the commune we see suggests that it is successful, visitors regularly come to watch the workers, and it us thought fondly of by those living in villages nearby. The only people who dislike it, Coverdale tells us, are other farmers, who pale in comparison.

So why the bleakness at the novel’s conclusion? Well the obvious answer is, Coverdale is depressed. It’s kind of a subtle thing but I think it’s really interesting to see a representation of that weird phenomena. It’s difficult to take an objective, big-picture look at the world around you, particularly the institutions and communities you are an intimate part of, without having your subjectivity influenced by various personal events in your own life. Good or bad. If you’ve just broken up with your girlfriend it’s easy to think that the NHS sucks, top to bottom. If you’ve just been offered a job it’s easier to remember how superior the heal system is to many other countries globally, and to remember times when you or your family have been treated very well. How do you deal with this? Is it enough just to be aware that it happens?


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