Abstract

Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Sunday at Home” and Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers provide two different models for distanced cultural engagement that nevertheless spring from similar philosophical assumptions. The narrator of “Sunday at Home” finds that watching the ritual of church alone from his bedroom window inspires his imagination and bolsters his faith. In the “Sunday” section of A Week, Thoreau criticizes organized religion, through which he champions the virtues of self-reliance and internal freedom. Hawthorne and Thoreau thus each represent public worship as a ritual that threatens to eclipse the otherwise spiritually fruitful opportunities offered by the prohibitions of the Sabbath. Despite their philosophical consensus regarding the dangers of capitulating to social and religious custom, Hawthorne nevertheless indicates his characteristic moderate stance regarding solitude and social distance, a stance that tempers Thoreau's idealistic extremes. As a result, Hawthorne's Sabbath writings offer possibilities for internalizing and thereby modifying Thoreau's demanding principles. In doing so, Hawthorne's work conveys his paradoxical insight that solitude protects one's independence but that distanced cultural engagement catalyzes the imagination and intellect, which, in turn, makes independence enjoyable and life-giving.

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