The Blithedale Romance

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 28 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
There is no cemetery in Blithedale, so they must discuss where to bury Zenobia. Coverdale suggests Eliot’s Pulpit, but Hollingsworth insists that they bury her on the hillside where they planned to build their cottage. Priscilla and Moodie go to the ceremony together, as do Hollingsworth and Coverdale. Together, they watch while Zenobia’s coffin is lowered into the grave. A strange man that Coverdale recognizes comes up and is the first one to throw some dirt on the coffin. Coverdale walks over to him and Westervelt says Zenobia’s suicide was foolish. Coverdale argues that she had every reason to—she’d lost her love, her money, and her projects all failed. Furthermore, Zenobia labored under a burden only Westervelt truly knows about. Westervelt argues that Zenobia had a whole life ahead of her and could have done something great in the world either on her own or through her influence over men.
Early on in Blithedale, there was an unproven rumor that Hollingsworth and Zenobia wanted to build a cottage to live in together. Earlier, when Coverdale tried to find out the truth, Hollingsworth gave him a vague answer. Now, however, Hollingsworth confirms that this was their plan (that’s why he wants to bury Zenobia there), which also confirms that they had a deep, meaningful relationship at one time. It’s notable that Westervelt is the first one to throw dirt in Zenobia’s grave because that privilege is typically reserved for spouses or close family. Westervelt seems to be confirming that he and Zenobia were married once, which is the “miserable bond” Zenobia so badly wanted to escape from when Coverdale heard them talking in the woods.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Coverdale says nothing Westervelt just described would’ve satisfied Zenobia’s heart. Westervelt contemptuously says she would have learned to control that. Coverdale asks how Westervelt is connected to Zenobia, but then says he doesn’t want to know exactly how Westervelt controlled her—if their bond could only be dissolved through death, then it’s better that she’s dead. Westervelt says it doesn’t matter what he was to Zenobia because she’s beyond his reach and has thrown her life away. Coverdale hopes that heaven annihilates Westervelt. Still, Coverdale admits that Westervelt is right about how much potential Zenobia had and mourns that she felt so defeated by the loss of her love that she was compelled to kill herself. Coverdale blames this on the world, which insists that women’s existence should rely on her relationships with men while men have so many other options.
Zenobia ultimately takes her secrets to the grave, at least as far as Coverdale is concerned. Ironically Coverdale is the one person who was most interested in her secrets and he’s the only one left who didn’t get to hear about her history directly from her. Zenobia’s death also highlights just how devastating it was for a woman in the 19th century—who had been raised to believe that her relationships to men are what defined her—to lose the man she loves.
Themes
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Coverdale worries about Priscilla but knows that her heart only has room for a single all-consuming affection. While Zenobia’s death is heartbreaking, it doesn’t destroy Priscilla. The worst that can happen to her is if Hollingsworth is unkind. In the present, Coverdale says Priscilla is still alive, so Hollingsworth is clearly still kind to her. Rhetorically, he asks if Hollingsworth should be left to enjoy Priscilla’s devotion after doing so much evil. With this question in mind, he went to find Hollingsworth and Priscilla a few years after Zenobia’s funeral. Coverdale sees them walking, but Priscilla is protective and tries to indicate to Coverdale not to come forward. He does anyway. Coverdale asks how many prisoners Hollingsworth has reformed. Hollingsworth calmly replies that he’s been busy with a single murder. This breaks Coverdale’s heart as he remembers Zenobia’s final message to Hollingsworth—he’s still haunted by her.
When Coverdale confronts Hollingsworth, it’s with the intention of hurting and punishing him for the role he played in Zenobia’s suicide. Coverdale has long believed that Hollingsworth is incapable of human emotion because he’s too devoted to philanthropy, which is why it’s so moving for Coverdale to realize that Hollingsworth has changed and deeply regrets how he treated Zenobia. Furthermore, Zenobia’s final message to Hollingsworth—that he is her murderer and she will haunt him—seems to have come true, but in the end she actually forgave him so it can be inferred that she wouldn’t be happy to see how miserable Hollingsworth is now.
Themes
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Coverdale says the moral of Hollingsworth’s life is that when a person devotes their entire being to philanthropy, it can destroy their heart even though their intentions are good. Returning to Zenobia’s grave, Coverdale says he doesn’t have a doubt that plants grow in abundance above her and that nature has reclaimed her body in death, although a crop of weeds has sprouted up from where her heart should be.
Coverdale was always curious about what parts of Zenobia were natural and which were artificial. To him, there is something poetic in the thought that nature has literally reclaimed Zenobia by using her body as fertilizer. This recalls the symbolism throughout the book of Zenobia’s flower; while she wore a flower to signal her pride in herself while she was alive, even in death there are plants growing around her body, perhaps showing how her legacy lives on.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
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