ABSTRACT

That individuals hold power and property in their own person is a core tenet of liberal philosophy, which is grounded in, among other concepts, Romantic theories of sacrosanct, interior vitality. Even so, sovereigntist thinking, particularly about human agency, nearly always fails to account for inherent inequalities and fundamental unresolved questions about how selves come to be understood as free. This essay contributes to the broader study of nineteenth-century sovereignty by analyzing a specific set of sovereigntist assumptions in Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1835 short story “Wakefield.” It reveals how privacy (viewed through Wakefield's attempt to be alone) and surveillance (as the narrator's penetrating authority) operated in Hawthorne's time as bases for different varieties of people: self-sovereigns with innate ability, free agency, and determining power, and non-agential, allegorical types, those yoked to social webs and adjusted by outside forces. Making use of the unique metafictional elements of “Wakefield,” the essay draws from literary criticism as it seeks to assert literature's significance within the broader, interdisciplinary study of sovereignty.

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