Coverdale stays in a hotel in the city far away from where he used to spend time and where there’s little chance of running into old friends. He feels a little like a traveler who has just returned to a familiar place. His time in Blithedale was not just a jaunt into the country for a summer, but part of another epoch and world. At one instant, Coverdale’s present living situation seems unreal, while at the next it’s Blithedale that’s dream-like. This makes the world feel fluid instead of solid. Just as Coverdale loves solitude in nature, he loves observing city life and listening to the sounds of people going about their lives in the streets. Still, Coverdale isn’t ready to join in the hustle and bustle, so he stays in, reads, and looks out his hotel window.
Coverdale initially sees his departure from Blithedale as a fresh start. He’s closed one chapter on his life and is free to start another. However, he’s unwilling to start a new life on his own, which is why he starts observing the lives around him, becoming progressively more preoccupied with how other people live, their relationships, and their secrets.
Coverdale soon becomes familiar with the range of houses outside his window. His room faces the backyards of these houses and he takes special note of the various fruit trees, grapevines, and other plants that grow in them. In one yard, there’s a cat stalking some birds in a tree. Coverdale prefers looking at the backs of houses rather than the fronts because the front is always artificial and made to look nice for passersby; the backs, however, are more authentic and natural. The houses outside of Coverdale’s window all look very similar and this makes Coverdale think about how all people are generally alike, too. The hotel waiter tells Coverdale that the building is a well-to-do boarding house. Two bachelors stay there, a picturesque family, and there are some empty rooms being prepared for new occupants. Coverdale watches the cook and servants prepare dinner while a dove flies between the buildings.
Coverdale believes that looking into the backs of people’s houses will reveal the truth about their lives by giving him access to something beyond the facades that people construct to look presentable in public. It eliminates the mystery and enables Coverdale to just enjoy getting to know them even though they don’t know he’s watching. In fact, Coverdale is the only one with something to hide—he knows it’s wrong to secretly pry into people’s lives and essentially spy on them, and so he doesn’t ever tell anyone else about this habit.