Saturday, October 24, 2009

Help with The Threefold Destiny

Someone asked.

Summary - local boy circles the globe in search of the grand flourishes he has imagined will reveal his even grander destinies for romance, treasure, and public influence. Upon his return, a man of thought and care, weary with world-wandering, and heavy with disappointed hopes, Ralph Cranfield encounters all three signs right there in his hometown. In fact, two of the signs he placed himself. So he went all the way around the world looking for what he had left behind.

This "Faery Legend" was first published in 1838, when Hawthorne was wooing Sophia Peabody. It could be Hawthorne was congratulating himself on finding his mate so close to home. Or perhaps he was exploring his response to pressure to go out and find his fortune. I find so many of these early stories wrestle with questions of marriage, destiny, and making one's way in the world.

But about the story...Why did Ralph leave? When struggling with Hawthorne, I always go back to the words. He begins describing the signs and destinies as, The first of these fatalities... Fatalities, of course, these things are fated to happen. But Connotations 101 reminds us to hear the finality of death in that phrase. Ostensibly Cranfield went in search of his destiny when in fact he was dodging it. Later we will learn he knew Faith was his beloved even before her faith was proven.

I do not like Ralph Cranfield, I wonder if I am not meant to. He arrogantly ignores his beloved when he meets her in the street, though I am sure every mother reading the story agrees he was right to present himself to his mother before anyone else. I would wish he lost something in the leaving, were my wishes of anyone's concern here.

I wonder about the whole "Hail the Conquering Hero" bit. What did Cranfield do to merit the local authorities' trust? How fortunate to have been away so long and then succeed in being in the right place at the right time, which is why it is a fairy tale I suppose. But still, Hawthorne worked in a bit of reality to soothe the skeptics on the other two aspects: Cranfield carved EFFODE in the tree and fashioned the brooch on Faith's bosom, planting his own seeds for the mystical deja vu later on. But this bit where he comes home and then next morning the town fathers knock on his door and hand him a job of some importance without any effort on his part, I do not understand how that fits.

Unless, the job is not a blessing. Is the charge of the local schoolchildren a role the selectmen were at a loss to fill, and was this unemployed prodigal son an answer to their prayers? Did they fulfill his dream or did he fulfill theirs?

I stray too far from the story I fear. In the end, I consider what I know of going away and coming home and believe we are to understand this story must be a fairy tale because you will never return to find things just as you left them, only better.

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