Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The historically uneasy relationship between Massachusetts Bay Colony and its appointed royal governors that Nathaniel Hawthorne sets forth in this story’s first paragraph allows the author to write a complex tale that deals simultaneously with the popular overthrow of a governor and with the coming to maturity of a boy. Neither of these themes is sacrificed to the other, for Robin discovers as a result of his long and frustrating inquiry his personal independence and his American identity. Though colonial Boston’s twisted roads lead him very close to the place from which he started his search, Robin’s “initiation” has changed him considerably. He had hoped in the tavern that his resemblance to Molineux would assure his fortune; by the story’s end, his laughter makes him one with the crowd, and his rejection of Molineux implies that the earlier rebuffs that he received as Molineux’s kinsman were correct. It is, then, significant in the story’s final scene that he exists as “Robin” rather than as Molineux’s kinsman. He has overcome temptation (the maiden in the red petticoat) and despondency (on the church steps), has rejected pleasant but unconstructive memories of his past (when he recalls his Huguenot background), and has determined to seek his own place in the world.
The initiation theme applies equally to the story’s sociological level. Just as a boy seeks his freedom and independence, so does a country. Robin can thus be seen as the slowly awakening American spirit that infuses and maintains the American Revolution. Correspondingly, Molineux can represent oppression that masquerades as family. He is Great Britain, but he is also whatever constrains the American spirit. The kind gentleman is, by extension, France, America’s first ally, but he also represents the respectful autonomy for which one should strive in any alliance.