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.