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My Kinsman, Major Molineux: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:04 Historical Context
  • 0:56 Summary
  • 3:01 Analysis: Coming of Age
  • 3:54 American Allegory
  • 4:30 A Romantic Interpretation
  • 5:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's story ''My Kinsman, Major Molineux'' is a coming-of-age tale with political undertones. This lesson helps you fully understand the plot of the story before giving you an analysis that will help you comprehend the text's meaning.

Historical Context

Nathaniel Hawthorne's story ''My Kinsman, Major Molineux'' is a coming-of-age tale with political undertones. Before Hawthorne begins his tale, he provides the reader with historical context. ''My Kinsman, Major Molineux'' was published in 1832, but it's set 100 years before that in Boston, before the American Revolution.

Hawthorne establishes the political climate of the time by discussing a succession of six governors in 40 years. Of those six he writes, ''two were imprisoned by a popular insurrection,'' while another died young, presumably driven to an early grave by the constant debate in the House of Representatives. Two of the governors had very few peaceful days in office, and one was even driven out by ''the whizzing of a musketball.'' In other words, things were tense!

Summary

Robin, a boy of 18, arrives in Boston on a ferry. He has spent nearly all his money to get there in hopes of finding fortune with his relative, one Major Molineux. Robin is an energetic, cheerful, shrewd country kid, and while he might be wearing the best traveling hat he could get from home, it's quickly apparent that he sticks out in Boston.

Robin goes to an inn to get directions to Molineux. He's hungry, but he can't afford the food. While he's there, he sees a frightening man with a two-toned complexion and meets a roomful of people who become hostile when he mentions his kinsman. There are vague threats, including one suggestion that Robin might be a runaway servant who should be jailed.

Beating a hasty retreat from the hostility in the inn, Robin begins randomly searching the streets. He's nearly seduced by a woman claiming to be Molineux's housekeeper. At one point, a night watchman accosts Robin, threatening to lock him up for vagrancy. Later, outside a church, Robin runs into the scary man from the inn, who has now painted his face half red and half black. This man tells Robin to wait there and he'll see Molineux.

While waiting, Robin meets the first kind person he's encountered in Boston, a gentleman who keeps Robin company. Robin tells the story of how his kinsman came to visit his family in the country, and how he took a distinct interest in young Robin. The teen hopes that Molineux's money and position might give him a leg up as he enters adulthood.

Before long an angry, torch-carrying mob comes down the street, parading their victim. They've tarred and feathered the local governor, Major Molineux. The mob stops in front of Robin and appears to wait for his reaction. Molineux makes eye contact with Robin, and it's clear they recognize each other. Robin pauses, then bursts out in laughter, booming out louder than anyone around him. The mob accepts him as someone on their side and leaves, and the gentleman suggests to Robin that he could make his own way in the world and stay in Boston. The story ends with the reader unsure whether Robin will stay or return home to the country.

Analysis: Coming of Age

There are a number of ways to interpret this story. Let's break down a few. At a surface level, Hawthorne's text can be read as a coming-of-age tale about a country lad who goes on a journey of personal growth. He leaves home thinking he's prepared for the world, but when he disembarks from the ferry in Boston, he discovers that he has crossed the threshold into a world very different from the one he's known.

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