Tuesday, 6 October 2015

handout for Liphook Group 7-9-15


1    There isn’t much ‘plot’.   GB goes off into the forest even though his wife doesn’t want  him to.   She feels vulnerable without him.  He feels a strong pull, just this once, to go.  At the outset we don’t know where he’s going, but gradually the quest gets clearer.  Nothing ‘happens’ except his new recognition  -   recognition of civic worthies at Satan’s gathering, and recognition that his faith is naïve.

2   His journey is portrayed first of all as a kind of duty, then as a temptation, especially when we meet his guide, like him but obviously sinister.  Like many journeys in literature it is a journey of discovery.   What he discovers is that all men are sinners.   And yet, should he be so distraught about that?  Surely that’s what the Bible teaches.   His reaction shows his character as, perhaps what later came to be called rigid or inflexible.  He’s naïve and he can’t get out of his naivety except into despair.

3  The story is very like a medieval mystery play in which Biblical themes are dramatised, and the characters personify ideas such as temptation, faith, or beings such as God or Satan. Perhaps when we first hear his wife’s name, though, we don’t think of her as a personification of the idea of faith.  

4  The atmosphere is strongly Puritan in its intense concern with virtue and faith and being devout.    What it brings out is the idea of hypocrisy, how the very people he’d respected as men and women of God in fact consort with the devil – like the Salem witches were supposed to have done.   Perhaps Hawthorne is saying that the dos and do nots of Puritanism are simplistic.

5  Faith is ambiguous.   She doesn’t want him to leave her (i.e. being a pious good man), but when he sees her among the gathering he calls to her to resist temptation.  We never know what happens next because  Hawthorne cuts at that point.

6  He wonders if the experience is a dream.   It’s never quite clear whether it is or not.  But certainly the atmosphere of the story makes it feel like one.  The dark wood is often seen as a frightening place where evil, pagans, and beasts live.

7   When he returns he refuses his wife’s kiss, and turns away from her.   Hypocritically he blames here for doing what he did.  But if he’d stayed at home with her?    Well, he’d not have learnt what the world was really like.  

8  Perhaps the story is a version  of the Fall of Man in Genesis.   GB ends the story no longer in his Garden of Eden.  He has found knowledge of good and evil.    But his wife does not seem much like Eve.   What is the meaning of her pink ribbons?  

9   How do we interpret the end of the story?  He becomes cynical?  He loses his faith?   Or she loses him?   What is he tempted by?   Sin as such?

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