Short story: “Wakefield”

by look i have opinions

“Wakefield,” by E. L. Doctorow

Appeared in the New Yorker on January 14th, 2008 (online here)

11,925–12,055 words, according to my word processors, though that’s hard to believe; it’s very fast-moving

I like this type of oddball scenario in fiction, even if it’s become somewhat familiar by now. The ending was a slight letdown, but I guess most of the possible endings would have felt that way. I read this as a story of failure of self-awareness. Despite the changes he goes through, Wakefield hasn’t really learned anything from his life. He cares about his family only in the most superficial sense (do we even learn his daughters’ names?) and he ultimately gives up his semi-feral existence apparently out of the same pointless, jealous desire that persuaded him to get married in the first place.

I didn’t realize until afterwards that the premise is borrowed from a story of the same title by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s is very different story, but the development of the main character is rather similar in both. The moral Hawthorne offers could probably apply here too.