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Passages Relating to Alienation in "Feathertop"

Passages Relating to Alienation in "Feathertop"

Mosses From an Old Manse
Mosses From an Old Manse (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Passages Relating to Art and the Artist:
Passages Relating to Hawthorne's Satire of the World:

    Passages Relating to Art and the Artist:

  • In costuming her scarecrow Mother Rigby chooses exotic garments, some of which come to her through the "Black Man" or through other witches. Here Hawthorne makes the connection between the artist's work and the demonic, suggesting that the powers of creation carry with them a touch of the supernatural.

  • In taking delight in her creation, Mother Rigby defies "any witch in New England" to make anything as good as Feathertop. Reading the passage, one cannot help but imagine Hawthorne himself feeling something of Mother Rigby's pleasure for, after all, he not only created Feathertop, but Mother Rigby herself. It is hard to imagine a man as self-aware as Hawthorne failing to feel a connection between himself and his jolly witch.

  • Hawthorne offers in these three passages from "Feathertop" a humorously self-deprecating and yet somewhat revealing judgment on art and, perhaps, his art in particular. In the first passage, he suggests that artistic success is merely a "spectral illusion," one that might well vanish if scrutinized too closely. In the second, he as good as confesses that the characters he has contrived for his romances are no more substantial than Mother Rigby's scarecrow. In the third, then, a passage that occurs at the moment in the story when Mother Rigby is exhorting[ Feathertop to come to life, that is, the point in the tale which is least credible, Hawthorne wryly tells the reader that he would find the story believable, if only he believed in it, a conclusion which is quite funny and which arises naturally from the direction he's taken in the first two passages.

    Passages Relating to Hawthorne's Satire of the World:

  • In this amusing passage, the townsfolk speculate on the European, and therefore elevated, origins of Feathertop as he, a stranger, strolls through town. Hawthorne's satire is broad, but effective, and the passage puts one in mind of "The Emperor's New Clothes." It is apparent, however, that humor at the expense of the local simple people is, in itself, indicative of the distance of the artist from regular people.

  • In the first two passages Hawthorne satirizes the empty language that commonly passes for civilized discourse and, by extension, satirizes those who speak in such a way. The story strongly suggests that these men are nothing but scarecrows themselves and indeed, as the third passage states, it is not an unusual occurrence for a pretty girl like Polly Gookin, empty herself, to give her heart away to a shadow. The scorn for the world that the passages imply points to the distance both Mother Rigby and Hawthorne felt from it.

  • While the image this passage conjures in the reader's mind may be largely humorous, it nevertheless echoes a similar passage in "The Minister's Black Veil," one much darker, in which Reverend Hooper also sees himself in a mirror and is horrified at the reflection. Both stories point to the great difficulty of seeing ourselves as we truly are and it is deeply ironic that the scarecrow uses his epiphany to change while Reverend Hooper does not.

  • At the story's conclusion, Mother Rigby decides against giving Feathertop another chance to make his way in the "empty and heartless" world they inhabit and instead makes him, as she originally intended, a scarecrow, an occupation fit for such a one as Feathertop. Before calling for Dickon to light her pipe, she offers a wry judgment on the vocations of most of Feathertop's "human brethren."

    Full text of "Feathertop"

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