The Blithedale Romance

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That night, Silas works on a pair of shoes and Mrs. Foster knits. Coverdale notices how trustingly Priscilla surrenders herself to Zenobia’s care. Coverdale theorizes that Priscilla worships Zenobia because she has read some of Zenobia’s stories or tracts about women’s equality. When Zenobia changes seats, Coverdale tells her this theory and she laughs, saying he should write a ballad about it. Zenobia thinks Priscilla is a nervous seamstress (indicated by the needle marks on her fingers) that has spent too much of her life indoors eating junk food. Coverdale and Zenobia realize that Priscilla is watching them and crying. Zenobia thinks Priscilla must have heard their conversation and she tells Coverdale that she intends to be nice to Priscilla, although Priscilla’s overabundance of love for Zenobia might get annoying. Zenobia goes over and strokes Priscilla’s hair, which elates the young girl and fixes her place as part of the group.
Even though Zenobia professes to like Coverdale’s poetry, she frequently teases him about it, saying he should write a ballad about this or that. These jokes are meant to discredit any of the theories or ideas Coverdale shares with her. It sends the subtle message to Coverdale that she doesn’t take him very seriously—he’s too dramatic and romantic, not real or serious enough. It’s also important that Coverdale thinks that Priscilla’s behavior might be a result of her admiration for Zenobia’s writings on women’s equality. Priscilla does not behave like a woman who has become awakened to female oppression; instead, she is shy, needy, and unable to fend for herself. If Coverdale interprets this behavior as coming from Priscilla’s admiration for women’s equality, then it seems like he profoundly misunderstands that movement. This is yet another indication that gender roles won’t be radically overturned at Blithedale.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Priscilla pulls some materials out of her bag and starts making a unique type of purse that seems impossible to open without being shown how. Coverdale (who has a purse just like it) thinks this reflects Priscilla’s own mystery. Occasionally Priscilla looks up like someone is calling her name, but she refuses to answer the call. Hollingsworth doesn’t talk much, and if someone talks to him, he looks very sternly at them. Coverdale attributes this habit to how intensely Hollingsworth dwells on his own ideas at every moment. Coverdale thinks Hollingsworth was never passionately involved in their project because he was always too wrapped up in his ideas for reforming criminals. The rest of the group debates what they should call the community, tossing up several ideas before deciding to keep it Blithedale. Silas tells them they should get to bed. Coverdale realizes he’s developed a bad cold and has a hard time sleeping.
Coverdale frequently expresses a deep interest in all of the other people around him. He’s constantly theorizing about their behavior, wondering about their pasts, and thinking about the connections between them. This desire to make sense of other people who are different than him contributes to Coverdale’s continued interest in Blithedale—even after he becomes disillusioned with it, he stays because the people are interesting. And even in the present day, years after the events in the story, Coverdale is still preoccupied with thoughts about the other characters. The discussion about naming Blithedale calls attention to the meaning of the community’s name. The word “blithe” means cheerful indifference—a stupidly optimistic disregard for important details. A “dale” is a valley. Calling the community Blithedale, then, indicates that the group’s attitude towards the natural world in which they have chosen to live is perhaps a little too lighthearted and casual to succeed.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon