Study Guide

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

by Nathaniel Hawthorne

My Kinsman, Major Molineux Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a moonlit evening just before the American Revolution in a time of political rebellion against British rule, Robin Molineux arrives at the ferry landing of a sizeable Massachusetts town. A country boy of about eighteen, Robin wears secondhand and homemade clothing, and he carries a cudgel consisting of an oak sapling with part of its root attached. He assumes that any passerby will be eager to tell him the way to the home of his kinsman, Major Molineux. However, he soon finds that directions will not be so easy to obtain.

The first person Robin meets is a well-dressed old man who coughs repeatedly. Robin takes hold of the old man’s skirt and asks if he knows the way to Major Molineux’s home. The gentleman responds angrily that he does not know the man, demands that Robin remove his hand, and threatens to have him put in the stocks for lack of respect. A nearby barbershop door is open, and those inside are delighted to witness Robin’s humiliation. Surprised, “shrewd” Robin, as he is repeatedly designated by the narrator, attributes the behavior to the old man’s being from the country and lacking the breeding to be civil to strangers. He even considers hitting the man on the nose.

Robin proceeds to an inn, where the cordial innkeeper assumes he is a possible patron. Robin infers that the innkeeper treats him well because he sees a family resemblance to Major Molineux, so with a great deal of confidence he admits that he is nearly penniless and is only there to inquire the way to Major Molineux’s home. Immediately, everyone in the tavern becomes hostile. The innkeeper pretends to see a resemblance between Robin and a runaway apprentice depicted on a wanted poster, and he rudely urges the boy to move on. Robin, again “shrewdly,” assumes the change in behavior is due to his confession of an empty pocket, but he thinks it strange that his poverty should outweigh his connection to his important kinsman. Once again, he contemplates physical retaliation, thinking that, if he could only meet the hostile men back in the woods where he and his oak sapling grew up, he would teach them some manners.

Robin’s next encounter is with a young...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

My Kinsman, Major Molineux Bibliography (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Becker, John E. Hawthorne’s Historical Allegory: An Examination of the American Conscience. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971. Argues that Hawthorne used historical allegory to interpret America to itself. Particularly useful for stories set in clearly defined eras of America’s past, such as “My Kinsman, Major Molyneux.”

Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993. An easy-to-read guide to the short stories.

Colacurcio, Michael J. “The Matter of America: ’My Kinsman, Major Molineux.’” In Modern Critical Views: Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. A complex reading of the story using a new historicist approach.

Crews, Frederick C. The Sins of the Fathers: Hawthorne’s Psychological Themes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966. Uses a psychoanalytic approach, showing how Freudian themes recur in Hawthorne’s works, including “My Kinsman, Major Molyneux.”

Doubleday, Neal Frank. Hawthorne’s Early Tales: A Critical Study. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1972. Contains a wealth of information on the conventions of American publishing, magazines as a venue for short stories, and the influence of Sir Walter Scott on American writers. Excellent source of background on “My Kinsman, Major Molyneux” in particular.

Hoffman, Daniel G. Form and Fable in American Fiction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961. Useful for identifying the influences of folklore and myth in Hawthorne’s work.

Reynolds, Larry J., ed. A Historical Guide to Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. A basic guide to Hawthorne’s times. Includes a brief biography, as well as essays by various contributors on mesmerism, children, the visual arts, and slavery. Also includes a valuable bibliographical essay surveying the many critical approaches to Hawthorne.