illustrated portrait of American author Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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In "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," what kind of animal is part of the celebration, and what eventually happens to the animal?

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As the "wild throng" of inhabitants who live on Merry Mount gather to celebrate the festivities on midsummer eve, a bear joins the celebration.

The maypole is colorfully decorated, and rainbows of color stream down from its top. People hold hands as they prepare for dancing, and a bear emerges from the forest, aided by the revelers:

And here again, almost as wondrous, stood a real bear of the dark forest, lending each of his fore paws to the grasp of a human hand, and as ready for the dance as any in that circle.

Interestingly, the bear adds to the lighthearted atmosphere, seemingly at ease with those who are celebrating. He has an "inferior nature" and is not characterized in a menacing manner.

When the Puritans arrive, they view these festivities with a "grim" countenance. They shake their heads in dismay at those who have "defiled" the wilderness and who have taught a bear to dance. Endicott, the leader of the Puritan group, cuts down the maypole and orders that the dancing bear be shot:

"And this dancing bear," resumed the officer. "Must he share the stripes of his fellows?"
"Shoot him through the head!" said the energetic Puritan.

Because the bear behaves in ways that are uncharacteristic of typical bear nature, Endicott believes that it must be a victim of witchcraft and therefore must not be allowed to live.

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