John Inglefield’s Thanksgiving by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1840
The magic trick:
Introducing a feeling of redemption that when it goes away only leaves an even deeper sorrow in its absence
Happy Thanksgiving! Nathaniel Hawthorne is here to make you feel pretty bad about yourself.
We drop in on a Puritan family Thanksgiving in today’s story. It’s a sad scene for a couple of reasons. But there is a feeling of potential redemption that shows up midway through when the estranged daughter, Prudence, returns. It is short-lived, however, and that regression to the mean leaves a very hollow feeling.
And that’s quite a trick on Hawthorne’s part.
While John Inglefield and his family were sitting round the hearth with the shadows dancing behind them on the wall, the outer door was opened, and a light footstep came along the passage. The latch of the inner door was lifted by sonic familiar hand, and a young girl came in, wearing a cloak and hood, which she took off, and laid on the table beneath the looking-glass. Then, after gazing a moment at the fireside circle, she approached, and took the seat at John Inglefield’s right hand, as if it had been reserved on purpose for her.
“Here I am, at last, father,” said she. “You ate your Thanksgiving dinner without me, but I have come back to spend the evening with you.”
Yes, it was Prudence Inglefield. She wore the same neat and maidenly attire which she had been accustomed to put on when the household work was over for the day, and her hair was parted from her brow, in the simple and modest fashion that became her best of all. If her cheek might otherwise have been pale, yet the glow of the fire suffused it with a healthful bloom. If she had spent the many mouths of her absence in guilt and infamy, yet they seemed to have left no traces on her gentle aspect. She could not have looked less altered, had she merely stepped away from her father’s fireside for half an hour, and returned while the blaze was quivering upwards from the same brands that were burning at her departure. And to John Inglefield she was the very image of his buried wife, such as he remembered her on the first Thanksgiving which they had passed under their own roof. Therefore, though naturally a stern and rugged man, he could not speak unkindly to his sinful child, nor yet could he take her to his bosom.
“You are welcome home, Prudence,” said he, glancing sideways at her, and his voice faltered. “Your mother would have rejoiced to see you, but she has been gone from us these four months.”
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