Although on the surface “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” appears to be a simple story, it offers much information about Hawthorne’s experience, attitudes, interests, and artistic aims. This ability to suggest a wealth of meaning in compressed form is a sure sign of genius. The moral of the story is that no one should look to others for help: The individual must learn to look out for himself or herself.
This message is expressed in philosophical terms by Hawthorne’s friend and mentor the Transcendental philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous essay “Self-Reliance” (1841). Hawthorne’s early experiences as a poor relation living on the charity of his own “kinsmen” had taught him the bitterness of dependency. The story also shows Hawthorne’s interest in early American history, which he studied assiduously during his “silent years” of self-imprisonment from 1825 to 1837 and used as subject matter for much of his fiction.
It also shows the power of his imagination. “Mr. Hawthorne’s distinctive trait,” wrote Edgar Allan Poe, a contemporary writer of great imaginative talent himself, “is invention, creation, imagination, originality—a trait which, in the literature of fiction, is positively worth all the rest.” In “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” Hawthorne performs the difficult feat of re-creating a colonial city of a century before his time, complete with streets, houses, shops, sounds, smells, and a variety of...
(The entire section is 506 words.)
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.)