Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The symbols of Hawthorne’s story blend masterfully to create its dual allegory. Robin arrives in darkness (doubt) with only the superficial confidence that his family background gives him. He wanders labyrinthine streets (the subconscious) in search of where he belongs. He fortuitously rejects temptation (the saucy maiden) and stares evil in the face (the man with the red-and-black countenance). He finally acquires the strength to laugh at the tarred-and-feathered Molineux’s false dignity, realizing even as he does this that he needs others. This is what provokes an offer of help from the kind man with whom he watches the procession.

Hawthorne’s story thus moves from the absolute darkness of its first scenes, representing Robin’s early state of mind, to the glare of torches at its conclusion when Robin sees Molineux’s face. Significantly, Molineux’s face is described in terms that make it resemble the devilish appearance of the stranger from whom Robin had earlier received an answer to his question. Thus, Robin finally sees the full reality of Molineux’s evil.

Ancillary symbols support the story’s legal theme. The Ramillies wig that the barber is dressing in one of the first scenes would be worn by a presiding judge. Also, the mansion that Robin thinks might be his kinsman’s home is clearly described as a colonial courthouse, while the sober man with the “sepulchral hems” in his speech could be a judge. That some legal proceeding is under way while Robin waits for his kinsman to appear is plain, and this is most evident when the sober man reappears on the mansion balcony in time to see Molineux pass. This time the man’s sober “hems” are interspersed with hearty laughter.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

The Romance and the Tale
Writing ‘‘My Kinsman, Major Molineux’’ in the late 1820s or early 1830s, Hawthorne looked...

(The entire section is 713 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

The term ‘‘irony’’ refers to a difference between appearance and reality, or between what someone says is true and...

(The entire section is 683 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although he uses some elements of Gothic fiction in this story, Hawthorne's principal model for this tale is the historical memoir. The...

(The entire section is 159 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Throughout his career, Hawthorne showed intense interest in celebrating the "new man" who had emerged in America as a result of the...

(The entire section is 315 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1828: Andrew Jackson is elected president. His emphasis on the rights and responsibilities of the common man in governing a democratic...

(The entire section is 259 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Investigate the political climate in the American colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century. When did the colonists start to...

(The entire section is 138 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Hawthorne's contemporaries saw in his tale of Robin Molineux a continuation of a number of stories relating the break between the American...

(The entire section is 149 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Throughout his life, Hawthorne composed tales of his New England past, and affinities exist between "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and dozens...

(The entire section is 64 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘My Kinsman, Major Molineux’’ was recorded on an audiocassette by Jimcin Records in 1983. The story is also included on Volume 7 of...

(The entire section is 31 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Young Goodman Brown’’ (1835) is another Hawthorne short story of a young man on a journey. Brown leaves his wife and sets out...

(The entire section is 314 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Benjamin, Park, Review of The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, in American Monthly Magazine, Vol. 2,...

(The entire section is 513 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bell, Millicent, ed. Hawthorne and the Real: Bicentennial Essays. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Hester Prynne. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.

Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.

Davis, Clark. Hawthorne’s Shyness: Ethics, Politics, and the Question of Engagement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Mellow, James R. Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.

Miller, Edward Havilland....

(The entire section is 228 words.)