The Blithedale Romance

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Early on in Blithedale, Coverdale discovered that a wild grapevine had grown up the tree and created a perfectly hidden cave high up in the branches. From this perch, Coverdale can poke through the leaves and see every part of Blithedale without being seen himself. Coverdale retires to this hermitage frequently to write, think, smoke, and simply keep his individuality intact during his time at Blithedale. After speaking with Professor Westervelt, Coverdale climbs into his hermitage, which is near Zenobia’s usual walking path. From his perch, Coverdale sees Hollingsworth in the field with the oxen. Coverdale thinks to himself that Hollingsworth sees people as oxen and questions what gives Hollingsworth the right to be the driver. Coverdale sees Priscilla and tells a passing bird to warn her about Zenobia and Hollingsworth. He tells the bird that only he (Coverdale) cares for her, but mostly for the qualities he’s endowed her with rather than for her own sake.
Coverdale is determined not to let Blithedale encroach upon his individuality, which calls into question just how much of himself he’s willing to put into the project. Coverdale’s hermitage also illustrates his tendency to want to be able to see everyone, pry into their lives, and discover all their secrets while remaining somewhat concealed himself. Coverdale has his own secrets and it’s doubtful that he’s revealing all of them to the reader, even though he insists other characters reveal theirs to him. However, he does partly reveal himself to the bird (who, notably, cannot actually reveal this secret to anyone else), suggesting that he cares for the qualities he projects onto Priscilla, rather than for Priscilla herself. Coverdale has persistently misunderstood Priscilla, so this is a moment of near-clarity for him; he understands that, even as he observes others, he’s really projecting his own assumptions and desires onto them without seeing them for who they are.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Up in his hermitage, Coverdale soaks in the smells of the forest, but he is suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that heroism and morality don’t exist and their Blithedale experiment is doomed to failure. To himself, Coverdale admits that it would be better to abandon the experiment. Suddenly Coverdale hears Westervelt’s distinctive laugh in the forest below and he realizes that his thoughts about Zenobia, Hollingsworth, Priscilla, and Blithedale were actually reflections of Westervelt’s opinions, and his influence has darkened Coverdale’s mind. Coverdale hates Westervelt more because his own nature had responded to Westervelt’s influence. Catching sight of Zenobia and Westervelt walking together, Coverdale notices that Zenobia appears angry and scornful, but there is still an air of familiarity indicative of a past love affair between them. Zenobia is careful not to brush against Westervelt and Coverdale wonders if there’s always been a chasm between them.
Coverdale ascribes some kind of supernatural ability to Westervelt, saying that Westervelt’s mere presence is enough to make Coverdale think the worst about everything. This foreshadows the conclusion Coverdale ultimately comes to about Westervelt’s relationship to Zenobia and Priscilla—somehow, Westervelt is able to control their minds to the point where they feel beholden to him and must do whatever he tells them to.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Manipulation, Control, and Ambition Theme Icon
Unlike Zenobia, Westervelt is cool and collected. He looks perplexed about Zenobia’s anger, but he is likely writing it off as feminine absurdity that no man can understand. Coverdale wonders how many women have ruined their lives by marrying men like that—marrying them and then finding that they lack humanity or delicacy, leaving the woman wretched and angry. Watching Zenobia and Westervelt, Coverdale imagines that Zenobia might have made that mistake in her youth, which would explain her characteristic defiance and eccentricity now.
Westervelt immediately dismisses and delegitimizes Zenobia’s feelings by attributing them to her just being an absurd woman. This implies that any feelings a woman has shouldn’t be taken seriously. For his part, Coverdale is also reducing Zenobia’s emotions. By explaining Zenobia’s personality, opinions, and activism as being a result of a previous bad marriage, Coverdale is, in a way, crediting a man with her achievements rather than accepting the possibility that Zenobia might just be who she is.
Themes
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Coverdale wonders if fate will lead Zenobia and Westervelt to stop under his tree so he can hear their conversation, but this doesn’t happen. Still, he catches some of it, although he admits he might have misheard them. Zenobia says she won’t throw off “the girl” and asks what harm the girl could possibly do. Westervelt whispers something in her ear that evidently disgusts her. She asks what kind of person she’s connected to and says if God cares for her at all then he’ll “release [her] from this miserable bond!” Westervelt says he didn’t think it was so bad as that, but Zenobia says it’ll strangle her. Zenobia utters a heart-wrenching moan and the two keep talking, but Coverdale can’t understand anything else they say as they walk off. The wind in the trees sounds like the word hush and Coverdale decides never to tell anyone what he heard.
The “girl” Westervelt and Zenobia are talking about is Priscilla. What parts of their conversation Coverdale catches indicate that Westervelt knows more about Priscilla than almost anyone else, and he knows what connects the two women. Zenobia mourns being in a “miserable bond,” probably a bond to Westervelt. She doesn’t cry to the legal system to free her from this bond—instead, she asks God. This implies that whatever hold Westervelt has over her transcends a marriage. No worldly power (such as divorce) can truly destroy the toxic relationship between Westervelt and Zenobia.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
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