“Godlike Knowledge:” Light as Power in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance

Sarah Cullen

Abstract


This article will consider how light is used as power in the literary works of the nineteenth century American author Nathaniel Hawthorne. It will draw on evidence from both his novels and short stories, with a particular emphasis on the 1852 novel The Blithedale Romance. Through much of Hawthorne’s work, images of light and darkness dominate. In particular, much of his work concerns the interplay of light and darkness. Hawthorne, this article will argue, was concerned with the fact that American Romanticism did not allow for any consideration for the darker aspects of life. Hawthorne represents this failure through the utilisation of light imagery throughout his novel. Ultimately, The Blithedale Romance shows us how problematic it is to ignore the shadowy side of existence. By following the trajectory of Hawthorne’s novel, this article will observe how its narrator, Miles Coverdale, determined to impose his own supreme control over light, spends the majority of the novel hiding from the darkness and immersing himself in the light. Harnessing both natural sunlight as well as manmade objects such as fires and lamplights to his own ends, Coverdale uses light not to illuminate but to project his own assumption and prejudices. Setting out to write poetry composed solely of daylight, Coverdale ultimately fails as he ignores the shadow and gloom that must accompany daylight.


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