Critical Evaluation

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” when he was about twenty-five years old. Most modern literary critics consider the work one of his finest stories. However, the author himself may not have felt so. He did not include it in his first two collections of stories, and literary critics before the 1950’s gave it little attention. Like many of Hawthorne’s early stories, it was first published anonymously in The Token, an annual collection marketed as a gift book for parlors. Hawthorne finally published the story under his own name in his third collection of short stories, The Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales (1851).

Many critics see in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” an archetypal coming-of-age tale. Robin’s journey essentially marks his transition from childhood to adulthood. He is leaving home to make his way in the world, and Major Molineux has offered him his help. He is naïvely proud of his connection to the major, apparently never considering that others might not regard his cousin so highly. He is slow to understand why he encounters so much hostility and deception in the town, and he considers resorting to a childish violence to solve the problems he encounters. That he carries a young tree with him, roots and all, marks him as a country bumpkin, innocent of the ways of the world, particularly the urban world. However, at the end of the story Robin’s false shrewdness may have become real shrewdness, as he finally realizes that his relative is hated in the community and that he has participated in his usurpation. He is a sadder and wiser man than he was, a fact that his companion notes when he suggests that he try standing on his own two feet rather than depending on the patronage of a relative.

Some critics see the story as a historical allegory. Q. D. Leavis, for example, feels that the subtitle of the tale might be “America Comes of Age.” The opening paragraph, which details a history of abuses the colonists inflicted on their royal governors,...

(The entire section is 832 words.)