Title page for ETD etd-09082005-085238

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Massie, Virginia
URN etd-09082005-085238
Title Solitary Blessings: Solitude in the Fiction of Hawthorne, Melville, and Kate Chopin
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
J. Bainard Cowan Committee Chair
John R May Committee Member
Malcolm Richardson, II Committee Member
Rebecca W. Crump Committee Member
Rodger M. Payne Dean's Representative
  • communitas
  • indifference
  • poet-thinker
  • liminality
  • solitude
Date of Defense 2005-07-20
Availability unrestricted
“Solitary Blessings: Solitude in the Fiction of Hawthorne, Melville, and Kate Chopin” examines a construction of solitude in which nature is alien and perilous, the self confronts rejection and death, the subject is subordinated to an unknown, and the revealed truth is experienced as both gift and curse. Arising out of fictional portraits of people under duress, this interpretation counters a more dominant construction in American literature, enunciated by Edwards, Emerson, and Thoreau, that shows solitude as composed and calming, subordinating nature to mind, and revealing an underlying truth in presentable form.

Solitude has been equated with privation and exile since antiquity; the Christian era added a contrasting context of interior communion with God. Romanticism revived and secularized both connotations, mixing the joy of inner communion with the potential for dark, destructive discoveries. Further analysis of solitude in this study employs concepts from authors Virginia Woolf and Albert Camus, cultural theorist Victor Turner, philosopher Gaston Bachelard, psychoanalyst Anthony Storr, and composition theorist Linda Brodkey.

In The Scarlet Letter Hawthorne balances the sympathetic portrayal of Hester Prynne with her presentation by a narrator respectful, even fearful, of Puritan authority, thereby keeping the experience of rejection and privation active in constructing the meaning of her experience. Hester’s solitude leads her through self-condemnation and rebellion to a clear-sighted sympathy and an alternative authority of her own.

Melville’s characters confront solitude radically. Bartleby seems to possess the hard-won wisdom of solitude already in an absolute form, and the lawyer-narrator must come to terms with it. Pip’s episode in Moby-Dick presents the encounter with solitude at its most condensed: forced into an extreme, inexplicable confrontation with nature and death, stripped of sanity, the sufferer of solitude achieves a God-like wisdom of indifference.

Edna Pontellier’s quest for solitude in Chopin’s The Awakening causes her to withdraw gradually from everything including herself as she becomes the poet-thinker alone. She takes charge of the process of self-discovery in solitude, outlining a path to autonomy, but her quest for a truth of the self without limits leads to the ultimate limit of death.

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