What is an example of a motif in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "My Kingsman, Major Molineux"?

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many examples of motifs in Hawthorne's story, assuming we define "motif" as a dominant idea or repeating feature of the story. For example, one motif would be the unhelpful townspeople; many seem to know of the Major, but no one is willing to help Robin find him. Another way to think about this motif would be to note that while Robin expects others to help him, no one does. Another recurring element in the story is Robin's saying over and over how "shrewd" he is (this is funny because he only figures out at the end of the story why no one will help him).

Yet another motif would be the repeated calling into question the difference between appearance and reality; Robin's waking dream about being at his father's house is a case in point:

He aroused himself, and endeavored to fix his attention steadily upon the large edifice which he had surveyed before. But still his mind kept vibrating between fancy and reality; by turns, the pillars of the balcony lengthened into the tall, bare stems of pines, dwindled down to human figures, settled again into their true shape and size, and then commenced a new succession of changes. For a single moment, when he deemed himself awake, he could have sworn that a visage — one which he seemed to remember, yet could not absolutely name as his kinsman’s — was looking towards him from the Gothic window. 

This hallucination is of a piece with Robin's expectations of his uncle (is this also a fancy?) or his expectations that the townspeople will help him. The story repeatedly denies Robin the information he requests, and it is only at the end  that he learns the "reality" of his uncle's situation -- that he has been tarred and feathered, humiliated, and run out of town. Hawthorne never reveals the crime of Major Molineaux, but he is part of another motif in Hawthorne's work, the moral leader with a hidden dark or sinful side. This goes for the townsfolk as well, who are transformed into a raging mob when it comes time to punish the major. For Hawthorne, these motifs tie together what is, in a real sense, a very simple story of family disgrace and mob justice.

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My Kinsman, Major Molineux

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