Wounded Hearts: Masculinity, Law, and Literature in American Culture

Wounded Hearts: Masculinity, Law, and Literature in American Culture

Wounded Hearts: Masculinity, Law, and Literature in American Culture

Wounded Hearts: Masculinity, Law, and Literature in American Culture

Synopsis

From the Civil War to the early twentieth century, Travis traces the history of men and emotions in American discourse. She argues that injury became a comfortable vocabulary--particularly among white middle-class men--through which to articulate and to claim a range of emotional wounds. Debates about injury that flourished in the cultural arenas of medicine, psychology, and the law spilled over into the realm of fiction, Travis demonstrates, in works by Stephen Crane, William Dean Howells, Willa Cather, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

Excerpt

The Interior of a Heart

Halfway through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale returns to the scaffold upon which Hester Prynne stood seven years earlier, infant at her breast, awaiting punishment for the crime of adultery. Dimmesdale, “overcome” by the “great horror” of the secret he shares with Hester, emerges from his “closet” and in the dark of night proceeds to the “foot-worn” scaffold where he hopes to unburden himself of his “hideous guilt.” In “heaven-defying” agony, he imagines a scarlet letter identical to Hester’s own burning itself into his breast “over his heart” (140). This “A” produces a “bodily” ache so “poisonous” that he is unable to restrain a cry of pain that, he believes, with some relief, will awaken the townspeople, who will then “hurry forth” and find him there (140). Dimmesdale imagines that his public exposure, bearing “the anguish in his inmost soul” in the marketplace, will relieve him of the “throb” of mental pain (136, 135). In the chapter prior to his return to the scaffold, which is appropriately titled “The Interior of a Heart,” Dimmesdale makes a futile attempt at such a public admission; he uses the stage of his pulpit and the text of his sermon to relay to parishioners what he calls “the black secret of his soul” (136). He knows, the narrative tells us, “subtle, but remorseful hypocrite that he was,” how his “vague confession” will be viewed (136). Each admission of sin on his part is interpreted by his flock as a lesson in contrast with his exquisite reverence. He reaches for but is unable to attain what he calls a “revolution in the sphere of thought and feeling,” one that he believes will reshape his “interior kingdom” (147, 207). Dimmesdale harbors a secret that he longs to confess, but his internalized prohibitions against displaying his “interior heart” to public view prevent him from such revelation. Neither his nighttime vigil nor his daytime homily produces its desired effect. He remains in a “highly disordered . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.