Hindsight Is 20/20: How Characters in The Blithedale Romance Rely on the Past

May 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

Nathaniel Hawthorne is notorious for portraying characters whose past largely affects who they are and how they act in the future, and The Blithedale Romance is no exception. The interesting thing about The Blithedale Romance is that much of the characters’ past is not known until later on in the novel. However, once found out, it is made clear how the characters’ past shapes who they are and what they choose to do. The most obvious recipients of this characterization are Zenobia and Priscilla. Zenobia’s whole persona, both viewed by herself as well as by other people, is largely because of an anticipated inheritance. Priscilla, on the other hand, is constantly thrown into different situations, leaving her with little to no free will. Both of these characters have very different pasts, yet are prisoners of their previous experiences.

Throughout the novel, Zenobia is perceived almost as a goddess. She is described many times as ethereal. Granted, this description is normally given by Coverdale, so it is a little biased. However, most people in the novel view Zenobia as a picture of perfection. This is, in part, because of the way she carries herself. She carries herself almost as if she is separate from others in society. This is represented by the flower that she always has in her hair. The flower represents her willingness to differentiate herself from others in society. She, therefore, carries herself in this manner which causes other people to view her the same way. This is represented on page 189 which says, “In fact, was her native power and influence, and such seemed the careless purity of her nature, that whatever Zenobia did was generally acknowledged as right for her to do”(189). This brings us to the question, what is the main reasoning for this perception? The answer is her anticipated wealth. This “anticipated wealth” is talked about in chapter 22, about Fauntleroy (or Mr.Moodie). It further explains the relationship between Zenobia and Priscilla as well as Moodie’s wealth. It is said that Moodie’s wealth was supposed to be handed down to Zenobia, a piece of evidence that shows us the reasoning behind the perception of Zenobia having wealth.

However, in chapter 25, it becomes known that Zenobia actually has no incoming wealth. This is where we see her become a prisoner to her past. Her past self and experiences were very reliant upon her perception as a wealthy person. However, when it becomes apparent that she has no wealth, things start to fall apart. Hollingsworth leaves her for Priscilla. Even her confidence, which used to be her strongest asset, was shaken. After finding out that Hollingsworth is leaving her, Zenobia says, “Why should he seek me? What had I to offer him? A miserable, bruised, and battered heart, spoilt long before he met me!” (225). Throughout the novel, Zenobia shows a sense of composure and confidence. Yet, when it is found out that she has no wealth, all of that is gone. She even goes as far as taking the beloved flower out of her hair. Coverdale describes this act as “the act of a queen, when worsted in a combat, discrowning herself, as if she found a sort of relief in abasing all her pride”(226). This perfectly describes Zenobia’s demise after her past experiences have essentially changed. This is solidified by her suicide.

Priscilla is a second example of a character being a prisoner to her past experiences. She is completely and utterly reliant on other people and past experiences to make up her lives. She simply goes with the flow and does as she is told. This is exemplified by Coverdale comparing her to a leaf, “floating on the dark current of events”(168). This essentially leads to her having little to no free will. The best example of this is in chapter 23 when she acts as the Veiled Lady. She seems to almost be under the spell of Westervelt until she takes off the veil and runs to Hollingsworth and “was safe forever”(203). Another example is how from the moment she arrived at Blithedale, she adhered to Zenobia and essentially was at her beck and call. The whole reason she was even at Blithedale was because Moodie dropped her off. Every decision of her life has been made for her. She became a prisoner to her past experiences because those past experiences were made for her. Therefore, she had no free will and no experiences that were truly her own. Consequently, she was reliant on those experiences which were made for her.

In The Blithedale Romance, Nathaniel Hawthorne presents characters that are prisoners of their past experiences. Priscilla is a prisoner to her past experiences because those experiences are not her own. Zenobia is a prisoner to her past because her assumed wealth plays a big part in how she carries herself and how others perceive her. In both cases, the two characters’ past experiences affect their current and future actions and experiences.

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