The Blithedale Romance

by

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Blithedale Romance: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Coverdale leaves his bed in May. He wanders outside, toward the sound of Zenobia and someone else laughing. In the barn he sees that Zenobia is decorating Priscilla with blossoms and greenery, but Coverdale also notices an ugly weed. The mischievous glint in Zenobia’s eye tells him she did it maliciously. Zenobia asks Coverdale how Priscilla looks, and he says there’s only one thing wrong. Zenobia removes the weed and tells Coverdale that Priscilla has grown quite wild, climbing trees and running everywhere. Zenobia says it’s ridiculous and somewhat provoking to see such a happy girl. Coverdale says that females are typically happier than males, but Zenobia disagrees and asks if he’s ever seen a happy woman—not a girl like Priscilla, but a woman. Zenobia questions how a woman can be happy once she realizes she only has one event to look forward to while men can do anything.
Coverdale realizes that Zenobia has a truly malicious side because she puts a stinky weed in Priscilla’s hair. This is particularly cruel because Priscilla trusts and loves Zenobia so much, and perhaps she doesn’t even realize that Zenobia is insulting her. Zenobia, like Coverdale, differentiates between a woman and a girl—a woman has worldly experience while a girl maintains her innocence and naivety. Zenobia’s phrasing here indicates that she herself is a woman, which implies that Coverdale might be correct that she has had sex.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Progressive vs. Traditional Gender Roles Theme Icon
Secrecy and Self-deception Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Priscilla sees Hollingsworth coming in from the field and runs to meet him. Halfway there, she suddenly stops and looks around like someone has called her. Zenobia says she’s seen Priscilla do the same thing before and doesn’t know why it happens. Priscilla listlessly sits on a rock until Hollingsworth comes up to her, but even then, she seems despondent. Finally recovered and out of bed, Coverdale feels like a new man—his illness has helped him get over old prejudices and follies. Looking around at the others, Coverdale thinks that the men look stronger and the women more beautiful, indicating the success of their enterprise thus far. Many more people of all sexes, creeds, and circumstances have joined the project, none of them very old or exceedingly young. What binds them all together is that they have some quarrel with “the old system” and want to help create a new one.
The basic premise behind life at Blithedale is that if everyone contributes time and labor to the farm, then they’ll have more time for their creative pursuits without worrying about income or the hustle and bustle of city life. Furthermore, physical labor is supposed to help their intellectual and spiritual development by deepening their connection to the earth and nature around them. In this passage, it seems like this might be working: Coverdale has recovered, the men seem to have gotten stronger (implying that they have become more adept at farm life), the women look more beautiful (which seems to suggest that they are flourishing), and more members have joined to help with the project. Notably, they’re joined together by their issues with the society they come from, rather than by a specific vision for how to improve. This perhaps foreshadows troubles ahead.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
As the people at Blithedale learn how to help run the farm, they grow stronger and even develop callouses on their hands. Having become nearly as capable as Silas, they fall into a comfortable routine. The surrounding neighbors tell some slanderous lies about what a terrible job the people at Blithedale are doing and how they make ridiculous mistakes (like that they dug up the corn and nurtured weeds all summer), but Coverdale recognizes it as basic envy and malice. The danger wasn’t that they’d fail to become farmers, but that soon that’s all they’d be. Before moving to Blithedale, they romanticized the idea of labor and how it would deepen their spiritual connection to nature and creativity. Unfortunately, Coverdale soon realizes they were wrong—their minds become sluggish and he writes that nobody can be both a scholar and a yeoman.
It doesn’t take long for Coverdale to become disillusioned with his early ideas about the connection between physical labor and his mind, spirit, and creativity. Instead of writing more, he’s writing less. And while he might have fallen into a comfortable routine and is physically benefiting from the exercise, the parts of himself that he values the most—his mind, writing, and spirit—begin to atrophy because he no longer has time or energy to stimulate them. This is a core failing of their utopian project, a withering of their primary vision.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Zenobia arrives at a similar conclusion. When Coverdale returns one day, she asks if he’s written any poetry, like Burns when he reaped barley. Coverdale confidently says that Burns was never simultaneously a poet and a farmer. Zenobia launches into a humorous description of Coverdale’s future: he’ll be like Silas, his mind will turn into cauliflower, he’ll only read the Farmer’s Almanac, he’ll fall asleep whenever he sits down, and he’ll speak with a drawl. Hollingsworth says Coverdale hasn’t written poetry because hard labor takes away men’s “nonsense” and leaves only their nature—Hollingsworth is unchanged because he’s earnest, while Coverdale is not. Zenobia says she can’t imagine being around such a great mind without being strengthened by it. This makes Coverdale realize that Hollingsworth has two followers—Zenobia and Priscilla—and he wonders what they all plan to do with each other.
Robert Burns (the poet Zenobia references) was a beloved English poet in the 18th century who was famous for also being a farmer. Burns might have been part of the reason Coverdale thought that physical labor would help his creativity. However, his comment that Burns couldn’t have been a poet and a farmer at once echoes his previous assertion that nobody can be an intellectual and a yeoman at once—on must choose between physical and intellectual labor because too much of one will ultimately ruin the other. In Zenobia’s mocking comparison of Coverdale to Silas, she reveals her hostility towards the laboring classes. Even as the community tries to create an equal society and find dignity and pleasure in work, they can’t help but betray their class prejudices, undercutting their utopian mission.
Themes
Self-Interest and Utopian Societies Theme Icon
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