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Hawthorne at Salem

Hawthorne - Literature

Drowne's Wooden Image

The Artist and Alienation in "Drowne's Wooden Image" - Introduction

Material prepared by:
Dr. Melissa Pennell, Department of English 
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
Indian figurehead
Indian figurehead (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
 

Drowne, a woodcarver who has established a reputation for producing adequate but not inspired figures, accepts a commission from Captain Hunnewell to carve a specific figurehead for Hunnewell's ship the Cynosure. As he works upon the carving, Drowne becomes more engaged with his artistry and more aware of the potential to convey the energy and dynamism of the human form in sculpture. Like Pygmalion, whose myth inspires this tale, Drowne falls in love with his creation and wishes it were real. Hawthorne reveals that a living version of this figure does exist when she appears in the company of Captain Hunnewell. The carved figure of the mysterious lady is Drowne's one great success; afterward he returns to being "the mechanical carver in wood, without the power even of appreciating the work that his own hands had wrought."

Within this retelling of the Pygmalion myth, Hawthorne embeds a number of issues that relate to the experience of the artist within his community and with his art. The painter John Singleton Copley, famous for his portraits of distinguished Colonial New Englanders, appears in the story. Like Drowne, Copley was primarily self-trained, yet saw himself as an artist, not a craftsman. Hawthorne uses dialogues between these two men to explore the lack of community for artists in America, the ways in which an artist is viewed by his or her local community, and the ways an artist thinks about his or her work and the nature of art.


Critics and biographers, such as Claudia Durst Johnson and James Mellow, have commented on Hawthorne's sensitivity to the place of an artist within American culture that shapes some aspects of this tale. In his prefaces, Hawthorne commented on the lack of appropriate material in America for the writer of Romance. In this tale, the inspiration for the artist Drowne resides in the foreign and exotic aspects of the woman from Portugal. Other critics, including Millicent Bell read the story as one of Hawthorne's explorations of the Romantic ideal of creativity, while Michael Wutz suggests that the story also encompasses another of Hawthorne's explorations of the concept of the fortunate fall.

Passages Related to The Artist and Alienation in "Drowne's Wooden Image"

 

Indian figurehead
Indian figurehead (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
 

 

  • This opening excerpt introduces the title character and establishes the relationship between him and the medium in which he works.

     

  • An excerpt in which the narrator describes Drowne's early interest in and work as a sculptor.

     

  • An excerpt that describes the transformation that takes place in both Drowne and his carving as he works upon the block of wood.

     

  • An excerpt that presents a conversation exchangedbetween Drowne and the painter John Singleton Copley, who is recognized as a genuine artist. Copley offers backhanded praise to Drowne, but Drowne surprises him by talking of the power of inspiration.

     

  • An excerpt that underscores the power of inspiration to transform the block of wood into a work of art.

     

  • An excerpt in which Drowne still identifies himself with the woodcarver's trade and not the sculptor's art.

     

  • The public's response to Drowne's exotic figure is presented in this excerpt.

     

  • An excerpt in which the narrator remarks upon the public suspicions regarding Drowne's statue and the view of his community that distrusts or distances artists and dreamers.

     

  • An excerpt that reveals the traditional New England suspicion of art and a tendency to associate it with the devil's work.

     

  • An excerpt that presents a last conversation between Drowne and Copley in which Drowne resigns himself to once again being an adequate woodcarver rather than an inspired artist.

     

The full text of "Drowne's Wooden Image" from Mosses From an Old Manse

Images Related to The Artist and Alienation in "Drowne's Wooden Image"

 

Indian figurehead
Indian figurehead
Carved wooden Indian figurehead in the Peabody Essex Museum (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Carved Wooden Figurehead of Female Figure in Green Dress
Carved Wooden Figurehead of Female Figure in Green Dress
 (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Carved Wooden Figurehead of Female Figure in White Drape
Carved Wooden Figurehead of Female Figure in White Drape
 (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
Portrait of Sarah Erving Waldo
Portrait of Sarah Erving Waldo
An example of the portraiture for which Copley was known. 
H.M.S Rose 1997
H.M.S Rose 1997
The H.M.S Rose at Derby Wharf 1997

 

Critical Commentary Related to The Artist and Alienation and "Drowne's Wooden Image"

Learning Activities Related to "Drowne's Wooden Image"

Indian figurehead
Indian figurehead (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
 

In "Drowne's Wooden Image," Hawthorne explores the difference between the work of an artist and an artisan through the dialogues between Drowne and John Singleton Copley and through Copley's observations. To understand why this comparison is important to Hawthorne and his ideas about the artist in America, students can do the following:

1. Compare the pictures of the ship's masthead carvings by various artisans listed below to the portrait of Sarah Erving Waldo by Copley. What differences do you see between these two art forms? What skills are needed to be able to create each of them? How do these differences in skill create distance between the creator of each?

 

2. Look up the words artist and artisan in the dictionary. How do their definitions suggest important differences in the assumptions made about people who are labeled one or the other?

3. Look at the conversations that take place between Drowne and Copley. How does Copley feel about Drowne's work? Why does he see the current carving as an exception to what Drowne has done in the past? How does this reveal what Copley values in an artist?

4. Hawthorne knew that New Englanders often viewed artists with skepticism or disdain. How do the comments of townsfolk or the narrator reveal this in "Drowne's Wooden Image"? How do you think someone like Drowne or Copley might feel when hearing these things?