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. 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!
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.
Hawthorne makes a point to have Robin encounter a variety of people, from the working class men in the inn to the woman in the scarlet petticoat, to the refined gentleman who befriends Robin toward the conclusion of the story. Robin's first moments are ones of confusion, but by the end of the night, he has learned how to do what it takes to fit in. He's begun the transition to adulthood. The ambiguous ending lets the reader decide whether Robin should choose the innocence of his former life or the experiences of this new one.
In the early days of independence, America is finding its own path as a nation; so too is Robin, who can be read as analogous to his country. Like America, he came from rural, farming roots, but now has to find his way with other, more worldly types. If Robin represents positive American qualities, then Molineux represents England. Molineux, despite what happens to him, is not shown in a purely negative light. He's the victim of the misplaced anger of the mob, but it's clear at the end, that Robin makes the right choice not to side with the Major. Robin (America) must find his own way in the world.
A Romantic Interpretation
Hawthorne was associated with the Romantic period in American literature, a movement that championed the natural world over the one created by mankind. Hawthorne's story can be read in that light. Robin, a creature of the country, leaves behind a life more in touch with nature to come to experience the artificiality of the city.
Hawthorne's description of Boston is predominantly negative. The people are aggressive and threatening, and Robin can find neither help nor rest while there. That night the citizens even paint themselves and engage in barbaric, primitive crimes when they capture, tar, and feather the local governor. When examined as a piece that contrasts the urban with the rural, it's clear that Robin should return to the countryside in the end because the rural comes out looking much better.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's story ''My Kinsman, Major Molineux'' is a coming-of-age tale with political undertones. It takes place just before the Revolutionary War and tells the story of a teen from the country who seeks out his powerful kinsman in Boston. Robin chooses to go his own way in the end, and the story can be read as a coming-of-age tale, an analogy for America's independence, or as a Romantic period examination of the conflict between urban and rural. Hawthorne was, after all, associated with the Romantic period in American literature, a movement that championed the natural world over the one created by mankind.
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