In "Wakefield," a man tells his wife he is leaving for a short trip, but instead, he moves in to a rental home a block away, where he remains for 20 years, unbeknownst to his wife and friends. At the end of this period, he waltzes right back into his house "as from a day's absence, and became a loving spouse till death."
Perhaps at first Wakefield isn't sure why he left. He could be experiencing a midlife crisis and trying to see how he will fare in a different environment. But he can't completely pull himself away and "finds himself curious to know the progress of matters at home -- how his exemplary wife will endure her widowhood, of a week; and, briefly, how the little spheres of creatures and circumstances, in which he was a central object, will be affected by his removal."
It's as if he tried to take himself out of his own reality, to witness that reality more objectively, as a third-party observer, and thereby discover himself. With apologies to Eastern mystics, the problem with this experiment -- or any such experiment -- is that a man cannot separate his inner self from his observing self. Wakefield cannot step outside himself to view himself in that former life more clearly, because he has taken himself out of that life. He is not in the home with his now grieving wife, interacting with her; he is outside, watching from a distance.
As he sees a physician visit his wife, Wakefield suspects she might be deathly ill, and this seems to slightly arouse his concern, but not enough to move him to return and comfort her back to health. By no means shall his sojourn in self-discovery be affected by these inconvenient stirrings of conscience; he hasn't yet decided when he will return, and this decision must be determined by his needs, not hers.
Ultimately, according to Hawthorne, "a morbid vanity ... lies nearest the bottom of the affair." Wakefield is so self-absorbed that it is not enough that he has indulged his grotesque midlife confusion to leave his wife, with barely a concern for its deleterious impact on her; he has to return to the scene of the crime and, beyond his process of self-discovery, must also savor her suffering because of his absence. Amazingly, at the end of this decades-long navel-gazing exercise, he is allowed to return home with impunity, as though he never left and he weren't the causal agent of so much damage.
There are, as I see it, at least two similarities between "Wakefield" and Obama's marriage to America.