Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Although on the surface “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” appears to be a simple story, it offers much information about Hawthorne’s experience, attitudes, interests, and artistic aims. This ability to suggest a wealth of meaning in compressed form is a sure sign of genius. The moral of the story is that no one should look to others for help: The individual must learn to look out for himself or herself.
This message is expressed in philosophical terms by Hawthorne’s friend and mentor the Transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous essay “Self-Reliance” (1841). Hawthorne’s early experiences as a poor relation living on the charity of his own “kinsmen” had taught him the bitterness of dependency. The story also shows Hawthorne’s interest in early American history, which he studied assiduously during his “silent years” of self-imprisonment from 1825 to 1837 and used as subject matter for much of his fiction.
It also shows the power of his imagination. “Mr. Hawthorne’s distinctive trait,” wrote Edgar Allan Poe, a contemporary writer of great imaginative talent himself, “is invention, creation, imagination, originality—a trait which, in the literature of fiction, is positively worth all the rest.” In “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” Hawthorne performs the difficult feat of re-creating a colonial city of a century before his time, complete with streets, houses, shops, sounds, smells, and a variety of...
(The entire section is 506 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Robin, an eighteen-year-old country boy, arrives by boat in Boston Harbor at nine o’clock in the evening to find his kinsman. Though poor and dressed in ill-fitting clothes, Robin has the confidence and buoyant optimism that accompanies youth, and he walks from the dock with enthusiasm despite the thirty miles his journey has taken him. He soon realizes, however, that he does not know where to look for Major Molineux, the kinsman who would be his protector. Even this does not disconcert Robin, for he believes that almost anyone he meets will be able to direct him to the home of such a prominent man.
Robin soon discovers that no one is willing to tell him where to find Molineux’s dwelling and that often these refusals are accompanied by antagonistic replies or threats of violence. For example, the solemn man carrying a polished cane whom Robin first approaches threatens him with the stocks if Robin does not release him and let him pass. The man insists, amid “sepulchral hems,” that he has “authority.” Embarrassed by the man’s evasiveness, his loud repulse, and the roar of laughter from a nearby barbershop, Robin determines to move ahead and continue his search.
Pleasant aromas from a tavern make Robin wish that he had enough money for a meal, but he consoles himself with the thought that his kinsman’s home must be nearby and that he will soon have his meal there. The innkeeper’s friendly greeting makes Robin think that the man recognizes in him a likeness to Molineux, but when he makes his inquiry the innkeeper reads aloud the description of a fled indentured servant and advises the boy that he had “better trudge.” Though he would like to have struck the innkeeper with his oak cudgel, the evident hostility of the others in the tavern convinces him to go. As he leaves he again hears loud laughter, but he believes that it is because he had earlier confessed that he could not afford a meal.
Young Robin’s patience wears thin as he continues the search for his kinsman. He sees the well-dressed young gentlemen of the town and once again hears the solemn old man with the “sepulchral hems,” but Robin now seems aware of his own shabbiness and hunger. He determines to use his oak cudgel, if necessary, to get the information he wants, but just then finds himself before an ill-built house near the harbor and sees a flash of scarlet petticoat...
(The entire section is 979 words.)