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Reading and Discussion Questions for The Blithedale Romance

Go to bibliography on The Blithedale Romance
  1. What are the principles of Blithedale as a community--that is, what do its inhabitants claim they want from the experiment? What do they really want?
  2. In what way does the image of the Veiled Lady set the stage for what follows?
  3. Explain the continuing metaphors of drama and the stage in this novel. In what sense are all the characters "actors" or performers?
  4. Comment on the references to fire in the story.  What might they signify?
  5. Looking at the text as a whole, what does Hawthorne mean to symbolize with his continual references to nature (such as the fire at Blithedale, the Hermitage, and the dove he sees from the hotel)? Is he using these to describe one great opinion or does each situation serve as a particular and singular metaphor?
  6. What might the dove signify? To whom might it refer?
  7. Would it be accurate to say that in some ways, each of the other characters is simply a foil for Coverdale or perhaps a figure onto whom he has projected a portion of his personality? In what way does each character represent an aspect of Coverdale?
  8. Does this novel uphold or critique the values of the American Transcendentalists? Which ideas does it address?
  9. Each character has a secret to be covered or "veiled" from the other characters. Some have assumed another identity. What are these secrets and how does the other characters' lack of knowledge about them affect the plot?
  10. Coverdale has a sense of himself as a "chorus" to the others.  Are there ways in which he might be seen as the author of this drama rather than simply as its commentator?  Consider such statements and self-assessments as those about his imaginings (103), his "speculative interest" (154), his longing for a "catastrophe" (157), his fictionalizing tendencies, and his confession.  Chapter 17, "The Hotel," contains several such revelations.
  11. To what extent is Coverdale the ultimate artist? The ultimate voyeur?  Can the two ever be distinguished from one another?  What point of view on this dilemma does Hawthorne present?
  12. Contrast the two scenes at Eliot's Pulpit (Chapter 14, p. 117, and Chapter 25, p. 213).  What truths are revealed (or concealed) in each?
  13. Zenobia is one of Hawthorne's most complex female characters.  In what ways does she change during the course of the novel?  Is she an admirable character? Why does she commit suicide, and in what ways does Hawthorne foreshadow her actions?
  14. In what ways do some of the later performances (the masquerade, the Veiled Lady episode) reflect on the larger themes of the work?
  15. Comment on the position of women in this work.  Priscilla and Zenobia are linked in many ways; what aspects of nineteenth-century womanhood do they represent?  Nina Baym, for example, suggests that "Zenobia is the natural and eternal woman, [and] Priscilla is the woman in history."  Is this accurate?  What other contrasts may be developed?
  16. In a famous essay called "The Dark Lady of Salem," Philip Rahv has argued that Hawthorne was prejudiced against his "dark lady" characters but that Coverdale nonetheless does not love Priscilla.  How would you support or challenge this assertion?
  17. Critic Kelley Griffith, Jr., has argued that The Blithedale Romance uses a deliberately frustrating structure, one based on dreams: "The second half . . .is extraordinary for its chaotic ordering of events and its refusal to fructify many of the crucial developments of the first half.  The reason for this difference between the halves lies in Hawthorne's use of Coverdale's dreams.  The first half we can accept for the most part as real; the second half we may see for the most part as dream-as a mirror of what Coverdale has seen and thought in the first half and of what he in fact learns after he leaves Blithedale."  Is Griffith's analysis of the structure correct?  Discuss, using examples of Coverdale's dreams and the novel's images of sleep, loss of consciousness, waking, and revelation.
  18. Several critics have suggested alternative structures for the novel, among them the quest-romance, the fairy tale or Cinderella tale, and the ballad.  Discuss Hawthorne's use of these.
  19. What does the novel suggest about ideas such as romantic idealism and ideal communities, the relationship of the self to others, the possibility of a communal soul, and  the possibility of an idealized pastoral world existing in contemporary society?
  20. What is Westervelt's place in all this?  If Westervelt literally means "western world," then how does his character reflect on the people in the book and Hawthorne's view of society?
  21. Coverdale's confession fails to satisfy many readers.  Why does Hawthorne leave the story with so many loose ends and just this one tidy confession?  What is to be gained by thus frustrating the reader?  What does this suggest about Coverdale's view of art and the nature of what it can accomplish?  Is Coverdale's view Hawthorne's here?

Comments to D. Campbell.