My Kinsman, Major Molineux

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My Kinsman, Major Molineux

Nathaniel Hawthorne 1832

Author Biography

Plot Summary




Historical Context

Critical Overview



Further Reading

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux” was first published in the 1832 issue of The Token, anannual collection of fiction, poetry, and essays generally bought as a Christmas present. It was one of four stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne in the issue, but like all of the pieces in the magazine, it did not carry the author’s name. The story was not a favorite of the author’s, and it drew no special attention from readers. It was not included in either of Hawthorne’s first two collections of short stories, Twice-Told Tales (1842) and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). Finally in 1851 it was published in the collection The Snow-Image and Other Twice-Told Tales. Thestory was not especially popular during Hawthorne’s lifetime, being greatly overshadowed by the novels that the writer produced in the 1850s.

In the second half of the twentieth century, however, the story took on a new life. Appreciated for its gentle irony and its glimpse at life in colonial New England, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” has been widely anthologized, and has become a staple of literature courses at the high school and college levels. The story of a young man from the country who goes to the city to find his relative is typical in many ways of early nineteenth century American literature. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” is held as an example of the themes, styles, and techniques of the period, and as a sample of the talents of one of America’s most important writers.

Author Biography

When Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, the United States was new and unformed. In New England, where his family lived, the somber influence of the Puritan settlers was still strong, and Hawthorne’s life and fiction were always marked by undertones of a brooding pessimism. His father was a sea captain who died in Dutch Guiana when his son was four years old. Nathaniel was raised by his eccentric mother in the homes of various relatives, and he spent most of his time alone.

After graduating from Bowdoin College in 1825, Nathaniel was determined to make his way as a writer. For ten years he lived with his family and devoted himself to reading, and to writing allegorical and historical tales of life in colonial New England. During this time, he changed the spelling of his family name from “Hathorne” to “Hawthorne” in an attempt to distance himself from an ancestor deeply involved in the prosecution of the Salem witch trials of the 1690s. His first publication was a novel, Fanshawe (1828), published anonymously at his own expense. It tells the story of a college student who falls in love, gives the young woman up to another man, and dies. As most first novels are, the work was semi-autobiographical and immature. When Hawthorne recognized the failings of his first novel, he bought up all the unsold copies and burned them.

He next turned his energies to short stories, exploring the nature of moral decay. Several were purchased, for a few dollars each, by S. G. Goodrich, the editor of an annual miscellany, The Token. The1832 edition of The Token includedfour Hawthorne stories, including “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” although the author’s name did not appear. Goodrich preferred to leave the stories unsigned so his readers would not know how much of his material had come from one writer. Several of the Token storieswere later gathered into Hawthorne’s collection Twice-Told Tales (1837), which proudly bore the author’s name, but “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” was not published again until 1851, in a collection titled The Snow Image.

Hawthorne tried for twelve years to earn a living as a writer before he was forced to find other employment. He married in 1842, at the age of thirty-eight, worked as a surveyor at the Custom House in Salem, and continued to publish short stories. When he lost his job in 1849, he settled down to write what became his greatest work, The Scarlet Letter (1850). This well-received novel was soon followed by The House of the Seven Gables (1851), The Snow Image, and The Blithedale Romance (1852). For the rest of his life, Hawthorne was free from worries about money, and he was able to concentrate on writing, traveling, family life, and his friendships with other writers of the day, including Herman Melville and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He died in his sleep on May 19, 1864.

Plot Summary

The story opens with the narrator addressing the reader directly, setting the scene. The story takes place in New England “not far from a hundred years ago,” that is, approximately 1730. The colonies had not yet become independent of Great Britain, and passions were running high. At nine o’clock on a moonlit evening, a young man of eighteen lands by ferry at an unnamed city. His name is Robin, and, by the look of his clothes and manner, the ferryman can tell he has never been to the city before. Robin carries a “wallet,” which is a small knapsack, and a cudgel, or a short club. Paying the ferryman with almost all of his money, he sets off eagerly toward town.

As he walks through the outskirts of the city, it occurs to Robin that he does not know where he is going. Apparently, he is seeking the home of a relative, but none of the houses he passes seems grand enough to be his kinsman’s home. He continues walking, and gradually the houses become more elegant. Seeing a well-dressed man on the street, Robin grabs his coat and asks whether the man knows where “my kinsman, Major Molineux” makes his home. As soon as Robin asks this question, the barbers in a nearby shop stop their work, and the other man’s expression turns angry. Robin does not notice these reactions, and when the man refuses to help him, Robin attributes the refusal to the man’s country manners. Clearly this man is not well-bred enough to deal civilly with a stranger.

As Robin walks on, the smell of tar is in the air. He finds an inn full of people, and asks the crowd whether anyone can direct him to Major Molineux. When they also turn silent and angry, he attributes their reaction to the fact that he has no money. Returning to the streets, he finds them full of gaily dressed people, and looks at every face to see whether he can recognize his relative. A woman in a scarlet petticoat tries to lure Robin into her house, assuring him that she is the Major’s housekeeper, but when a watchman passes by she runs into her house and shuts the door. As he wanders, Robin shows himself to be completely unprepared for the city and the city people, although he remains unaware of his naivety.

As he walks the streets with no plan, hoping to somehow stumble upon the Major’s house, he grows hungry and desperate. He sees a large hurrying man covered with a cloak, and demands to be told where his kinsman is. This stranger stops, and tells Robin, “Watch here an hour, and Major Molineux will pass by.” Taking off his cloak, he reveals his face, which is painted red on one side and black on the other. Robin is astonished, but asks no questions. Instead, he sits on the steps of a church, determined to wait for the Major.

As he waits, Robin is vaguely aware of a murmuring sound coming from far away. No more people pass by, and he grows melancholy thinking of his family back home. Finally another man passes by, and when Robin asks him for information he responds with genuine kindness and concern. He encourages Robin to tell him why he is looking for Major Molineux, a person this man knows something about. Robin explains that he is the second-oldest son in the family. His older brother is following their father in running the farm, and Robin is expected to make his own way in the world. Some time before, Major Molineux visited the farm and showed an interest in the boys, promising to help them one day. Robin has come to the city to begin a career, hoping for the assistance of his wealthy relative.

The kind stranger is intrigued by the story, and sits down with Robin to wait. He agrees that Major Molineux will soon be passing by, and he is eager to see the reunion. The two chat for a short time, and then the murmuring turns into shouting. A crowd of people comes pouring down the street, some playing musical instruments, some carrying torches. A horseman leads them, waving a sword, with his face painted half red and half black. At the end of the procession is a cart bearing Major Molineux. He has been tarred and feathered, probably because he is a Major in the British military in a town that is moving toward independence.

Robin and his kinsman make eye contact, but do not speak. As the Major passes by, Robin seems

to see every stranger he has encountered this night, and every one is laughing. The laughter is contagious, and Robin finds himself laughing more loudly than any of the others. When the procession has disappeared out of sight, Robin asks the kind stranger to show him back to the ferry. He has decided not to stay in the city after all. The stranger refuses, encouraging him to stay a few days. He believes that Robin will be able to make his own way in the city, even without the help of his kinsman.



The last person Robin meets during his night of encounters and misdirections is a gentleman of “open, cheerful, and altogether prepossessing” looks, who speaks the only kind words Robin hears in the city. Curious to see how Robin will react to seeing his relative in disgrace, he joins the young man on the church steps, and chats with him while they wait.

Major Molineux

Little is known about Major Molineux, the kinsman whom Robin is seeking. He never speaks a

Media Adaptations

  • “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” was recorded on an audiocassette by Jimcin Records in 1983. The story is also included on Volume 7 of Jimcin’s audio anthology Great American Short Stories: A Collection (1984).

word in the story, and Robin’s questions about him are met with stony silence. First cousin to Robin’s father, and a man with wealth and no children, he has expressed a desire to help Robin establish himself in a career. Molineux is a major in the British military, serving in what is still a British colony. Although he is tarred and feathered at the end of the story, there is no hint of what he may have done wrong. Even in his disgrace, the narrator describes Molineux as “an elderly man, of large and majestic person, and strong, square features, betokening a steady soul.”

Robin Molineux

Robin is the story’s protagonist, a young man of nearly eighteen who has come from the country to find his relative, Major Molineux. Robin is the son of a country minister who maintains a small farm. Because the older brother will inherit the farm, Robin hopes Major Molineux can help him find another occupation. This is Robin’s first trip to the city, and everything about him—his clothes, his way of speaking, and the club he carries—identifies him as a country boy out of his element. At home, Robin is considered a “shrewd youth,” but in the city he misinterprets everything he sees. Time after time he asks people to help him find his relative, and they turn away or mutter angrily. Each time he attributes their unwillingness to help to their own ignorance, rudeness, or low status. Robin never understands, until he sees his relative in tar and feathers, that the people bear a grudge against Molineux. Realizing the depth of his ignorance, Robin decides that his best course of action might be to return home.


Coming of Age

Many critics have seen “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” as the story of Robin’s passage from child to adult. Robin’s journey follows the conventional pattern: he travels from his home to a distant land, where he meets strange people and has exciting adventures. Each encounter leaves him a little wiser than he was before. By the end of the story he has learned enough to survive on his own, or, in the words of the kind gentleman, to “rise in the world without the help of [his] kinsman, Major Molineux.” Robin himself is not aware of his growth and development, but the gentleman is sure of it. The story, then, opens with the ferryman’s view of Robin, as a rough and unready youth, and ends with the gentleman’s view of Robin as a “shrewd youth.”

Order and Disorder

The biggest problem facing Robin is that he cannot make sense of anything that is happening around him. He cannot find his way around the crooked and meandering streets; the architecture of the houses is “irregular”; the people behave strangely, dress alarmingly and say incomprehensible things; and the quality that he hoped would open doors for him—his relationship with Molineux— has the opposite effect. Where he expected to find order, a pattern for his life, he finds only disorder, chaos.

But it is not just from his point of view that the world is in disorder. The narrator, too, describes a world gone mad, a mob carrying on “in senseless uproar, in frenzied merriment.” The chaos is a “contagion” spreading through the crowd, and it reaches even Robin, who can know nothing of the politics that led the mob to their actions. Robin’s experiences in the city are contrasted with his memories of home, and of an ordered life centered on “his father’s custom” of daily worship. His challenge will be that of all young people who start out on a new life: to find a way to make sense of what is new and strange.


In the long paragraph that opens the story, Hawthorne’s narrator introduces the historical setting: the story takes place in New England in or near the 1730s. Although the Revolutionary War is still some four decades in the future, the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony have already begun to rebel against British rule. They have driven away or imprisoned four of the previous six appointed governors, and lower-ranking members of the “court party,” or those loyal to the King, have also been tormented. Robin’s kinsman, Major Molineux, is a part of the British forces maintaining rule in the colony, and it is in this role that he is tarred, feathered, and paraded through the town.

Writing in the early 1830s, Hawthorne was grateful for the results of the Revolution, but as John P. McWilliams, Jr., has explained in an article for Studies in Romanticism, hewas not sympathetic to the kind of mob mentality that could inflict cruelty on individual loyalists. There is no mention in the story of any particular wrongs committed by Molineux. His only crime seems to be that of fulfilling his duty at a time of “temporary inflammation of the popular mind.”

City versus Country

One of the most frequently seen themes in literature, particularly in the literature of the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is the conflict between the city and the country. Stories of young men from the city venturing out into the country and being confounded by the wilderness are as common as stories presenting the situation found in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” a young man from the country being overwhelmed by his first trip to the big city. Everything that happens to Robin happens because he is in a new place, because he does not know how to read the signs.

Robin is so “evidently country-bred,” the ferryman can tell it just by looking at him, and can tell that Robin has never been to town before. For one thing, Robin carries a club, which might be useful for confronting animals in the wilderness but is hardly the appropriate tool to have at hand in the city. Though he thinks of himself as “shrewd,” Robin in fact does not understand anything he sees or hears, and just as a person from the city might become lost and confused on a winding path through the woods, Robin becomes “entangled in a succession of crooked and narrow streets.” Looking into the church, in many ways the center of the town, he feels “a sensation of loneliness stronger than he had ever felt in the remotest depths of his native woods.” His instinct is to go back home, feeling “weary of a town life.”

Topics for Further Study

  • Investigate the political climate in the American colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century. When did the colonists start to talk and write publicly about seeking independence? How common were minor acts of rebellion like that committed against Major Molineux?
  • Find one or two descriptions of medieval religious pageants. How is the procession in the story like these pageants? What is the significance of the similarity?
  • Research the methods and materials used in tarring and feathering. Is the punishment physically harmful, or primarily humiliating? Where and when has it been used?
  • Make a list of stories in which a young man from the country comes to the city on a quest. How is this story like and unlike the others? In how many of the stories does the young man find what he has come for?



The term “irony” refers to a difference between appearance and reality, or between what someone says is true and what is actually true. The narrator in this story is being ironic when he continually refers to Robin as a “shrewd youth.” Robin certainly believes himself to be shrewd, and tells the kind gentleman that he has a reputation at home for shrewdness, but the fact remains that Robin is remarkably not perceptiveor intuitive. For example, when Robin meets his first town-dweller and asks about his kinsman, the man answers him rudely, and even threatens him. Robin ponders this response for a moment, and then, “being a shrewd youth,” he guesses wrongly that the man must be a newcomer who is unacquainted with Molineux. As Robin passes through town he misinterprets everything he sees and hears, and the narrator greets every misinterpretation with an ironic comment about Robin’s shrewdness.

The effect created by this irony is to add light humor. The narrator and the reader know more than Robin does, and poke fun at him for his inability to see what is before him. But the mocking is gentle. Robin is not stupid, or someone to despise because of his own inflated sense of self. Instead, the quiet irony demonstrates that Robin is a young man who might rightfully have expected to do well in the city, but who finds himself in over his head.


A story’s setting is the background against which the action occurs, and is usually thought of as the time and place. In “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” the narrator outlines the setting in the opening chapter. The story takes place “not far from a hundred years ago,” or around the late 1720s or early 1730s, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which encompassed most of what is today Massachusetts and New Hampshire. During that time, rural families like Robin’s were relatively unaffected by politics, but colonists in the cities were beginning to rebel against British control. It would be four decades before the American Revolutionary War would begin, but minor acts of rebellion and civil disobedience, such as the tarring and feathering of Major Molineux, had begun to break out.


Hawthorne is generally considered one of the first and greatest writers of the romantic period in American literature, and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” exhibits some of the characteristics of romanticism that Hawthorne would develop further in his novels. Romanticism was a movement in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries away from neoclassicism, the strictly formal kinds of literature and art that attempted to echo classical Greek and Roman cultures. In American fiction, romantic writing reflected the bursting confidence and mystery surrounding the growth of a new nation.

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux” demonstrates several elements of romanticism. European romantic writers often set their stories in medieval Europe, peopled with knights and kings, but Hawthorne and others found the same inspiration in the historical period before American Independence. The dreamlike atmosphere of the story, the somber tone, and the fact that the events occur in dim light are also romantic elements. Finally, the focus on Robin and his psychological state, rather than on action and physical conflict, was a new development of the romantic period.


An allegory is a story in which the characters and actions can be thought of as standing for larger issues and ideas. Certain characters in an allegory might stand for abstract qualities, as in the story of the Grasshopper and the Ant in which one character stands for laziness and the other for hard work. In an article in Sewanee Review,Q. D. Leavis suggests that “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” should be read as an allegory, and that a proper subtitle for the story would be “America Comes of Age.” According to her reading, Robin personifies “the young America,” brought to the point of deciding how to set a course for the future. When Robin joins in the laughter at his uncle’s expense, he represents America realizing that it must cast off British influence and strike out on its own.

Historical Context

The Romance and the Tale

Writing “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” in the late 1820s or early 1830s, Hawthorne looked primarily to European writers for his models. For readers and writers of the nineteenth century, the forms of writing called “the novel” and “the romance” were distinct in style and in theme. Hawthorne found that most readers and critics favored the novel, but that the romance suited his own artistic temperament better.

Romance didnot have the meaning it came to have in the late twentieth century: a story mainly concerned with romantic love between a beautiful heroine and a dashing, heroic man. Instead, the word originally applied to the languages derived from Latin (the Romance languages), including Spanish, French, and Italian. The term was later applied to stories written in French, and later still to a specific type of French story dealing with knights and castles and adventures. Romances were popular in Europe through the nineteenth century, and often used medieval settings, royalty, and chivalry, and fantastic spirits and dragons.

For Hawthorne and others, the term Romance wasused to distinguish more imaginative literature from the novel, which was considered more realistic. Hawthorne frequently wrote about these terms,

Compare & Contrast

  • 1828: Andrew Jackson is elected president. His emphasis on the rights and responsibilities of the common man in governing a democratic nation help create an era of enthusiastic patriotism.

    1990s: After decades of well-publicized scandals involving top government officials, public interest in national affairs is weak.

  • 1830s and 1840s: Handsomely printed and bound annual collections of essays, short stories, and poems are popular Christmas gifts in England and the United States. They provide a strong market for short fiction. Although most pieces are published anonymously, the annuals enable several important writers, including Hawthorne, to establish a reputation with publishers.

    1990s: Short fiction is published in popular and literary magazines, but does not sell as well in book form as the novel. Fiction writers frequently gain practice by writing short fiction, but build an audience through the publication of novels.

  • 1700s: With no motorized vehicles and no paved roads, travel from country to town is slow. It has taken Robin five days to come from one part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to another, a distance of no more than one hundred ninety miles.

    1990s: A car can cross Massachusetts in about three hours, traveling at normal highway speeds. The Concorde airliner travels faster than the speed of sound.

  • 1700s: Boston is the largest settlement in New England, and is probably the town where Molineux lives. In 1790, the earliest year for which records are available, the population is 18,320.

    1830: Boston is the largest city in New England. Its population is 61,392.

    1990: Boston is still the largest city in New England. Its population is 574,283.

especially in the prefaces to his longer works. In the preface to The House of the Seven Gables, heexplained the difference as he saw it: “When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel.” The writer of romance, if he wished, might “manage his atmospherical medium as to bring out or mellow the lights and deepen and enrich the shadows of the pictures.” It is in this spirit that Hawthorne set many of his tales, including “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” in darkness, twilight, and shadow.

Two difficulties presented themselves to the American writer of romance in the early part of the nineteenth century: there was little demand for this kind of imaginative literature, and America had no medieval past and no royalty to establish the proper atmosphere. This lack of demand caused reviewer Benjamin in 1836 to predict that if Hawthorne could collect his magazine stories into a book he could have a success “certainly in England, perhaps in this country.” Hawthorne commented throughout his life that he felt burdened by the difficulty of creating romantic fiction in a country that had not yet developed a taste for it.

He dealt with the problem of having no medieval past by substituting the best American equivalent: the period from the original Puritan settlement to the time just before the Revolutionary War. Here he found heroes and enemies, grand issues and ideas. In the period just after Andrew Jackson was elected president of the United States, the country was energetically patriotic and celebratory. The decades before the Revolution, the historical setting of “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” were far enough in the past to have acquired the patina of legend and mystery. The story’ s narrator establishes the setting in the first paragraph, and then begins the second with a line straight out of a medieval tale: “It was near nine o’clock of a moonlight evening, when a boat crossed the ferry with a single passenger.” Moonlight, Hawthorne writes in the “Custom House” section of The Scarlet Letter, “is a medium most suitable for a romance-writer to get acquainted with his illusive guests.”

Roughly equivalent to the terms romance and novel asused to distinguish two types of long fiction are the terms tale and short story, usedto distinguish two ways of thinking about short fiction. Tales are less bound by constraints of realism than are short stories. Hawthorne thought of his book-length works, including The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance asromances. His shorter works were gathered into collections with titles including Twice-Told Tales and Snow-Image, and Other Twice-Told Tales. ForHawthorne, the terms were used carefully, to mark out what he describes in The Scarlet Letter asa “neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other.”

Critical Overview

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux” was first published in the 1832 edition of The Token, anannual book of essays, poetry, and short fiction to which Hawthorne contributed several pieces over the years. The story was published anonymously, and it was not until 1836, when journalist Park Benjamin wrote a review of that year’s Token, thatthe reading public came to know Hawthorne’s name. Having read “a sufficient number of his pieces to make the reputation of a dozen of our Yankee scribblers,” he praises Hawthorne’s style, and his modesty in remaining anonymous. “If Mr. Hawthorne would but collect his various tales and essays into one volume,” Benjamin notes, “we can assure him that their success would be brilliant—certainly in England, perhaps in this country.” Hawthorne did issue a collection the next year, and it did sell well, but it did not include “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.” The story did not appear again until 1851, in the collection Snow-Image.

When Snow-Image appearedin 1851, it was quickly overshadowed by Hawthorne’s great novel, The Scarlet Letter, publishedin the same year. By this time, Hawthorne was widely recognized as an important writer, both in the United States and in England, as Benjamin had predicted. Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville had reviewed his stories with approval. In what may be the first published overview of Hawthorne’s work, Henry T. Tuckerman describes the stories in terms that seem especially appropriate for “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”: “He always takes us below the surface and beyond the material; his most inartificial stories are eminently suggestive; he makes us breathe the air of contemplation, and turns our eyes inward. It is as if we went forth, in a dream.” Tuckerman did not mention “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” specifically in his article, nor did Henry James in his 1879 book-length study of Hawthorne.

In an article published in 1957 in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, SeymourGross observes, “It is one of the peculiarities of the study of American literature that, despite the abundance of critical effort expended on Hawthorne’s fiction, what is perhaps his most powerful story, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” has been until only recently all but completely ignored.” At the time, Gross was unable to identify a single anthology of American literature or of short stories that included “My Kinsman.” But the 1950s saw the publication of several critical articles on the story, and although the number of publications has tapered off in the intervening decades, the story continues to be popular.

Most twentieth-century critics have read the story as a psychological examination of Robin, with the historical setting as mere background. Several have used Freudian psychology to examine Robin’s search for a father figure, or for independence. In a 1959 article in Criticism tellinglytitled “Robin Molineux on the Analyst’s Couch,” Roy Harvey Pearce explains that Robin gains freedom only by participating in the guilty act of mocking his father figure. Roy R. Male, in Hawthorne’s Tragic Vision (1957), demonstrates that each man Robin meets in town is a distorted father-figure. He draws on “the Freudian theory of dream interpretation, which asserts that visions of the father figure may commonly be split into two or more images.”

Other critics have read the story as primarily concerning history. For some, it is a historical allegory. Q. D. Leavis, in a 1951 article for Sewanee Review, proposes “America Comes of Age” as a suitable subtitle for the story, and suggests that the story is easiest to understand as a “poetic parable in dramatic form.” In her reading, Robin represents young America, coming to adulthood by casting off dependence on the authority figure Molineux/England. John P. McWilliams, Jr., agrees that history is at the center of the story, but disagrees with Leavis about the theme. He argues in a 1976 article in Studies in Romanticism thatRobin does not in fact “come of age,” nor show any signs of learning. McWilliams suggests that Hawthorne appreciated Independence but did not fully approve of all the means used to achieve it. Robin might stand for “those readers who, even when confronted with the violence and demagoguery of the Revolution, prove unwilling or unable to recognize them.”


Cynthia Bily

Bily has a master’s degree in English literature and has written for a variety of educational publishers. In the following essay, she discusses Hawthorne’s use of imagery of light and darkness.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” was one of his earliest publications, appearing anonymously in the 1832 edition of The Token. Itwaited more than one hundred years to gain its current position as one of the author’s most widely anthologized and studied short stories, although it is built on many of the same themes and techniques as Hawthorne’s better-known stories and novels. Images of light and darkness, for example, are used in this story to illuminate (pun intended) the theme, just as these images provide insight to “Young Goodman Brown,’” ’The Birthmark,” and other stories.

A central question for readers of “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” has been whether or not Robin, the “shrewd youth,” actually learns anything from his experiences in town and, if so, what might that new knowledge be. Seymour Gross is among those who see the story as one of growth and maturity. In an article for Nineteenth-Century Fiction, hepoints out Hawthorne’s “masterly manipulation of lights and darks” in this story and in others. He finds that “the light-dark device is more significant in this story because, where in the other stories it is used as a kind of thematic signpost, here the motif is the theme itself: the journey from dark innocence to painfully illuminated knowledge.” But John P. McWilliams, Jr., is one of several critics who claim that “Hawthorne never confirms that Robin has changed or learned anything. . . . The ending of the tale, evidence of Robin’s maturing to so many critics, can more plausibly be regarded as evidence of his persistent naivete.”

Has Robin learned and grown during his ordeal? Has he, as Gross claims, moved from darkness to light? Or has he remained in darkness, as McWilliams believes? I believe the truth is closer to McWilliams’ reading than to Gross’. Robin has learned something, but he has learned to accept a falsehood. Educated under an artificial light, he has accepted an artificial truth.

When Robin Molineux steps off the ferry at the end of a five-day journey from his country home to the city, it is “near nine o’clock of a moonlight evening.” The moon is bright enough to get around by, apparently, since Robin carries no light source with him and intends to find his way through town. The ferryman carries “a lantern, by the aid of which, and the newly risen moon, he took a very accurate survey” of Robin. Leaving the landing and approaching the town, Robin examines the first buildings he sees and he, too, makes an accurate survey by moonlight: “yonder old house, where the moonlight enters at the broken casement” cannot be his relative’s house, for Molineux is a man of means and position. To this point, Robin’s judgment is sound, with the notable exception that he did not think to ask the ferryman for directions. He has not made any missteps yet.

But something peculiar happens the first time Robin approaches a man to ask for help. As Gross points out, Robin sees the man of two successive hems from a small distance, and reaches him “just when the light from the open door and windows of a barber’s shop fell upon both their figures.” Now Robin makes his first mistake—not in asking about the Major, which is a reasonable thing for him to do, but in misinterpreting the man’s refusal to help him as a sign of the man’s backwardness. In the moonlight, Robin makes reasonable guesses, but in his first encounter under city lights he does not. Will the pattern hold?

Wandering further, Robin becomes “entangled in a succession of crooked and narrow streets.” Above the rooftops “the masts of vessels pierced the moonlight” and Robin is able to read street signs and learn that he is near the business district. There is no reason to think that his efforts at reading street signs are misplaced. But soon he enters the brightly lit tavern, and again he misjudges. The tavern owner greets him courteously, with a low bow, and Robin concludes, “The man sees a family likeness!” When Robin mentions the Major’s name,

What Do I Read Next?

  • • “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) is another Hawthorne short story of a young man on a journey. Brown leaves his wife and sets out through the forest, where he stumbles upon a witches’ coven and finds his wife among them. He returns to Salem a gloomy man who has lost his faith in the goodness of humans.
  • Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” (1843) is an allegorical tale in which a scientist marries a woman who is perfectly beautiful except for a tiny birthmark on her cheek. Determined to remove the mark, the scientist tries several methods, finally finding a potion that erases the birthmark and kills his wife.
  • The Scarlet Letter (1850) is Hawthorne’s great novel about the suffocating influence of Puritanism. Hester Prynne is made to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her breast as punishment for adultery, while her lover keeps his sin a secret and suffers the torment of guilt.
  • “Bartleby, the Scrivener” (1853) is Herman Melville’s tale of a Wall Street attorney who cannot establish a connection with his new scribe. The young employee answers every request with “I should prefer not to.”
  • Great Expectations (1860-61) is Charles Dickens’ novel of the village boy Pip who goes to the city with the expectation of finding wealth and love.
  • Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” (1849) is an essay that asserts “that government is best which governs least.” It is an individual’s responsibility, Thoreau explains, to refuse to obey unjust laws.
  • Mason Weems’s History of the Life, Death, Virtues and Exploits of George Washington (1800) is a fictionalized history of the Revolutionary period, popular in the nineteenth century and read by Hawthorne. The 1806 edition contains the first account of Washington and the cherry tree.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Critical Biography (1949), by Mark Van Doren, is a biography that frankly reveals the affection the author feels for Hawthorne, yet still presents an even-handed criticism of Hawthorne’s work.

“there was a sudden and general movement in the room, which Robin interpreted as expressing the eagerness of each individual to become his guide.” But things are not what they seem to be.

As Robin moves through town, he encounters more people in lighted places. By “the light of the moon, and the lamps from the numerous shop-windows” he sees well-dressed figures promenading on the streets. Turning down a side street, he comes to a row of houses, and “the moonlight fell upon no passenger along the whole extent,” but he sees a woman’s garment within a lighted entry way. When she steps “forth into the moonlight” Robin is able to see her for who she is. She would like to draw him into her lighted house, but Robin knows to avoid that temptation. Interestingly, Robin encounters a man with a painted face as he is passing through the shade of the church steeple. Neither in the light of the tavern nor in the shade of the steeple does Robin learn anything from this man, but when he steps “back into the moonlight” Robin learns that his relative will pass by in an hour.

Robin passes the next hour alone. First he examines the street, “and the moon, creating, like the imaginative power, a beautiful strangeness in familiar objects, gave something of romance to a scene that might not have possessed it in the light of day.” After a while, Robin climbs to a window frame and looks into the church, where “the moonbeams came trembling in, and fell down upon the deserted pews, and extended along the quiet aisles. A fainter yet more awful radiance was hovering around the pulpit, and one solitary ray had dared to rest upon the open page of the great Bible.” Hawthorne writes elsewhere of the imaginative powers of moonlight, as in the “Custom House” section of The Scarlet Letter. ForHawthorne, imagination is not the same thing as untruth. Instead, it can be the key to a greater truth. In Robin’s case, it takes him home.

Under the influence of the unadulterated moonlight, Robin dreams of his family back in the country. He imagines the great tree where his father conducts worship services “at the going down of the summer sun ... holding the Scriptures in the golden light that fell from the western clouds.” Back home, God was worshiped in the open air, in natural light, but Robin can’t go home again.

Now he meets the last stranger, the one who will treat him kindly. Significantly, he first becomes aware of this man by “the sound of footsteps along the opposite pavement.” He cries out to the man, and the man responds “in a tone of real kindness.” The light is dim, the shadows are oblique, and Robin must trust his ears instead of his eyes. By doing so, he wins the only friend he will find this night.

Now the procession begins, and it brings its own light. “A redder light disturbed the moonbeams” as torches pass by, “concealing, by their glare, whatever object they illuminated.” As the painted man passes Robin and releases him from his gaze, there are more torches “close at hand; but the unsteady brightness of the latter formed a veil which he could not penetrate.” Soon, “traces of a human form appeared at intervals, and then melted into the vivid light.” Finally comes the sight Robin was meant to see: “There the torches blazed the brightest, there the moon shone out like day, and there, in tar-and-feathery dignity, sat his kinsman, Major Molineux!”

Robin is at a crossroads. What will he see? The torches compete with the moonlight as both shine on Molineux; there is a wrong way and a right way to look at him. Under the influence of the torches and the torchbearers, Robin could join in the “bewildering excitement” and contribute his “shout of laughter” to the “senseless uproar.” Or he could see what the narrator sees, unaffected by the crowd: “an elderly man, of large and majestic person,” with “a head grown gray in honor.” He could see that he is part of a “frenzied merriment, trampling all on an old man’s heart.” We do not know what the kind gentleman sees, nor whether he joins in the

“Hawthorne was attracted to the idea that things seen by artificial light (and by twilight, another repeated theme of Hawthorne’s) are not to be trusted,”

laughter. But we know that Robin falls to the “contagion” of merriment.

What has Robin learned? If he has learned that his relative deserves pain and humiliation, he has learned a cruel untruth. Molineux has been nothing but kind to Robin, a relative whom he barely knows. Robin knows nothing of the political situation that brought Molineux to such a bad end. ’ T have at last met my kinsman,” Robin says, but in fact he knows nothing about the man. The vision of the prisoner on the cart amid the “unsteady brightness” of the torches is not a vision to be trusted.

Hawthorne was attracted to the idea that things seen by artificial light (and by twilight, another repeated theme of Hawthorne’s) are not to be trusted. In “The Birthmark,” Aylmer’s gaze is drawn to Georgiana’ s birthmark under these conditions. “With the morning twilight Aylmer opened his eyes upon his wife’s face and recognized the symbol of imperfection; and when they sat together at the evening hearth his eyes wandered stealthily to her cheek, and beheld, flickering with the blaze of the wood fire, the spectral hand that wrote mortality where he would fain have worshipped.” Not until the end of the story, when he has administered the potion that will soon kill her, does Aylmer look at his wife in full light: “He drew aside the window curtain and suffered the light of natural day to fall into the room and rest upon her cheek.” Under artificial light the birthmark appears large and important; under natural light, Aylmer sees how foolish he has been, and what damage he has caused.

In “Young Goodman Brown,” the title character also sees strange things that trouble him. As he passes through the woods trying to escape the devil, he looks up to pray. Suddenly the available natural light is blotted out: “a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried across the zenith and the brightening stars.” Soon the only light is that cast by “four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting.” Goodman Brown is not sure he should trust his own eyes as he gazes around at the people before him: “Either the sudden gleams of light flashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the church members.”

Robin, like young Goodman Brown, has been “bedazzled” by what the firelight has shown him; like Brown, he makes the mistake of trusting what he has seen. When the procession has passed by, Robin is ready to return home. He knows, or thinks he does, what his uncle really is, and he is “weary of a town life.” The gentleman, however, knows that reality is more complicated than Robin thinks. He refuses to escort Robin back to the ferry, “not tonight at least,” and encourages him to stay a few more days, to see what he can learn in the light.

A research study conducted in 1999 seemed to demonstrate that schoolchildren score higher on standardized tests when they are sitting in natural rather than artificial light. While Hawthorne cannot have anticipated electricity and fluorescent lighting, he did have a sense that to learn the truth about something, people need to examine it in the light of day.

Source: Cynthia Bily, in an essay for Short Stories for Students, GaleGroup, 2001.

John Russell

In the following essay, Russell looks at Hawthorne’s use of allegory within “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.”

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Source: John Russell, “Allegory and ’My Kinsman, Major Molineux,’” in The New England Quarterly,Vol. 40, No. 3, September, 1967, pp. 432-40.

Bartlett C. Jones

In the following essay, Jones explores Hawthorne’s vagueness surrounding his meaning of “shrewdness “in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale of mid-eighteenth century Massachusetts, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” is woven around an ambiguous use of the term “shrewd.” Five sets of oppositions, or tensions, are established in the opening pages, developed throughout the narrative and contrasted in a climactic scene. Robin’s shrewdness, if proven beyond reasonable doubt, resolves these tensions in his shout of laughter and brings the story to a successful conclusion. Recent criticism has stressed sub-conscious factors when explaining Robin’s laugh. My analysis indicates that his motivation is primarily conscious, that his decision represents a complex historical development. As such the story assumes a new dimension, a biting commentary on a human nature too prone to choose the expedient.

The Colonial reaction against Royal officials and the court party in Massachusetts prior to the American Revolution is the tale’s first opposition. A boy like Robin Molineux, coming into so charged a political atmosphere, must ultimately choose between the rival factions. Contrasting the country and the town, a second tension, is politically significant. The story is laid in Boston, cradle of Massachusetts insurgency. Historically, leaders like Sam Adams had to overcome the loyalist sentiment of the back country before plunging the Bay State into a fight for independence. A third opposition, rough clothing compared with fashionable attire, follows from Robin’s country origin. His coarse coat, leather breeches, home knit stockings, cudgel and the wallet he carries on his back set him off from the townsmen. The “courteous” innkeeper sees that he is from the uncommitted back country before any words pass between them.

The theme of youth struggling against the world is quite evident in Robin’s situation. His parchment three-penny is not enough to buy a meal at the inn. Robin’s elder brother is to receive the family farm. The youth is seeking his affluent kinsman, Major Molineux, who has offered to aid one of his impoverished cousin’s two sons. Finally, illegal personal force is pitted against socio-legal repression. When Robin grabs the skirt of the old man’s coat, he is threatened with imprisonment in the stocks. The innkeeper sardonically reads descriptions of runaway bond servants and the reward for their recapture, before saying, “Better trudge, boy; better trudge.” The night watchman frightens Robin’s temptress, “the lady of the scarlet petticoat,” back into her quarters and commands him to go home or face the stocks. Robin’s cudgel becomes the recurring symbol for illegal, personal violence, just as the stocks represent social coercion Robin wants to smash the old man’s nose and break the innkeeper’s head. He longs to wreak vengeance on the men who laugh at him. Robin considers forcing someone to direct him to the Major by brandishing his cudgel and, later, he tries to intimidate a pedestrian in that fashion. He feels “an instinctive antipathy towards the guardian of midnight order.” Growing desperate from fatigue and hunger, Robin thinks of personal retribution when faced with social repression. He is more analytic when confronted with illegal, personal force—perhaps because he embodies it and familiarity has brought a measure of understanding.

The temptress nearly succeeds in luring Robin into her rooms before the appearance of the night watchman. Despite this narrow escape, Robin distrusts her at once. He doubts whether “that sweet voice spoke Gospel truth,” and ultimately reads “in her eyes what he did not hear in her words.” There is no question that the temptress represents an illegal force after her flight from the watchman. (Later, when law and order breakdown completely, she ventures into the street with impunity.) Before this encounter, Robin invariably draws the wrong conclusions each time he tries to interpret his experiences. Previous references to his shrewdness, when he mistakes the old man for a country representative

“Robin is called ’shrewd’ when he flees from the temptress, after the watchman disappears. And this action is shrewd, since the ’good youth’ has already learned that he cannot resist the scarlet woman’s gentle persuasion.”

and when he infers that his light purse outweighs the name of Major Molineux, seem clearly ironic. Hawthorne tells us that Robin replied “cunningly” to the temptress after she said that the Major was inside her house. Robin says, “But I prithee trouble him to step to the door; I will deliver him a message . . . and then go back to my lodgings at the inn.” This reply iscunning. It contains a lie, for Robin has no lodgings; but it gives him a pretext for remaining outside and provides for the contingency that the Major is within. Robin is called “shrewd” when he flees from the temptress, after the watchman disappears. And this action isshrewd, since the “good youth” has already learned that he cannot resist the scarlet woman’s gentle persuasion. Robin’s conduct at this point is important; it foreshadows his climactic act.

In the middle of the story, between Robin’s flight from the temptress and the appearance of the lynching mob, certain tensions are reinforced while others become blurred. Robin’s loneliness and isolation from the rest of the world grow more intense before the appearance of the kindly gentleman, an urbane, detached observer who is never directly involved in the story. The contrast between town and rural life is heightened by the comparison of the town church with a country religious observance, as Robin remembers it. The gentleman, however, speaks to Robin “in a tone of real kindness,” a conspicuous departure from the townsmen’s previous practice. He also holds the skirt of Robin’s coat, an act which seemed boorish when Robin detained the old man in that way. Still, the tension between the town and the country remains. When an uproar is heard in the distance, the gentleman says “You must not expect all the stillness of your native woods here in our streets.” Robin predicts that the disturbers of the peace will be set in the stocks, thereby mentioning a symbol twice invoked against him. He seems, however grudgingly, to accept social repression as a necessity. The discrepancy between Robin’s clothing and the townsmen’s grows weak, partly because the gentleman’s clothes are not described. The youth also meets individuals “in outlandish attire” and the man with the twofold complexion “muffled in a cloak.” Just before the mob arrives, “Half-dressed men hurried towards the unknown commotion.” An examination of the climactic scene and the denouement explains why Hawthorne made several oppositions less rigid.

The mob sweeps by and the cart carrying the Major, “in tar-and-feathery dignity,” stops directly in front of Robin. “The double-faced fellow” and the Major, presumably a Royal official, have both stared at him. (These stares are significant because Robin had been able to read the truth in the eyes of his temptress and correct “what he did not hear in her words.”) Gripped by a feeling which Hawthorne describes as a “mixture of pity and terror,” Robin is compelled to make a crucial decision. He still represents the country vs. the town; youth vs. the world; and, at least symbolically, loyalty to England vs. rebellion. As foreshadowed in the middle of the tale, however, Robin’s position is now inverted with respect to the other oppositions. He now represents socio-legal repression opposing the personal violence of the townsmen. He could be a witness at their trial, for example. Also, his clothing is now relatively fashionable compared with that of certain townsmen. Some of the mob are described as “wild figures in the Indian dress, and many fantastic shapes without a model.” The innkeeper has an apron over his head, while the old man whose fashionable appearance was contrasted with Robin’s crudeness at the beginning of the story, has become a caricature. The old man is:

.. . wrapped in a wide gown, his gray periwig exchanged for a nightcap, which was thrust back from his forehead, and his silk stockings hanging about his legs. He supported himself on his polished cane in a fit of convulsive merriment, which manifested itself on his solemn old features like a funny inscription on a tombstone.

It is indisputable that Robin’s immediate problems are allayed by his laugh, although his motivation is not simple. Previous scholarship has attributed his shout of laughter, “the loudest there,” to many factors. Robin has been under a strain and

needs an emotional outlet. As he says in the middle of the story, ’ T have laughed very little since I left home, sir, and should be sorry to lose an opportunity.” He laughs because the crowd’s laughter is contagious and because the scarlet woman’s touch provokes, we may guess, tingling sensations of a pleasant yet unfamiliar nature. But his laugh is also prompted by shrewdness, expediency, the desire for self-preservation. Robin has seen many of the lynch mob at close range and is related to its victim. He must side with the mob or, at least, seem to applaud its work. Otherwise he might well be thrown into the cart and, perhaps, put to death. (Death is a reality to Robin, as revealed in his thoughts inspired by the graves around the town church.) If the element of conscious shrewdness partially explains Robin’s laugh, the tensions are all resolved. Robin accepts the town, the ways of the world, and the spirit of colonial rebellion—with its illegal, personal force and the rough, outlandish clothing of its adherents. He has matured, or retrogressed—depending on the viewpoint—enormously. The critic must reject Mark Van Doren’s conception that Robin, at the end of the story, is “much as he had been, except that he knows he has no prospects.”

Two important clues suggest that expediency is one stimulus to Robin’s climactic laugh. If Robin acts shrewdly when contending with the illegal force of the temptress, it is logical, in terms of his character development, that he will meet the overwhelming physical strength of the mob in the same way. Hawthorne refers back to the temptress when he plants the second clue. When Robin comments on the distant shouting, the gentleman says, “May not a man have several voices, Robin, as well as two complexions?” Then: “’Perhaps a man may; but Heaven forbid that a woman should!’ responded the shrewd youth, thinking of the seductive tones of the Major’s housekeeper.” This exchange is apparently linked to Robin’s climactic laugh through similarity of language and metaphor. (One indication is that the gentleman’s question and Robin’s answer are provoked by shouts, and Hawthorne twice calls Robin’s laugh a shout. Another indication concerns the attitude of “Heaven” toward deception through the voice. Immediately after Robin’s laugh, Hawthorne depicts the indifference of the “cloud spirits” and the “Man in the Moon.” This animism reflects ironically upon an activity divorced from Christian ethics. The Heaven, which is called upon to prohibit two-voiced women, is ambivalent.) In any case, Robin’s admission that a man may have two voices is pertinent when discussing the reasons for his laugh. Like the mob’s shout, a laugh may be deceptive. Full recognition that the voice may deceive, plus a strong motive for siding with the mob, suggests that Robin laughed, in part, to save himself. The other emotional factors contributed to his successful shout, “the loudest there.”

Oversubtle interpretation is an obvious danger here. The youth’s request to be shown the way back to the country implies that his future course is not fixed; but it should be noted that he does not protest when the gentleman orders him to remain in town for a few days. Robin goes so far as to call the mob and the onlookers “my other friends.” Shrewdness does not connote clairvoyance, sophistication, worldly wisdom, will power or higher spiritual values; it is a quality men share with lower animal forms. Robin’s bewilderment, false inferences, gaucheries and irresolution do not prevent him from acting shrewdly when the situation demands it. Hawthorne apparently provides sufficient clues to clarify the ambiguity surrounding the term. Formulating a final sentence which illuminates the meaning of an entire work is a recognized literary device. The last sentence of the story, in which the gentleman addresses Robin, reads:

Or, if you prefer to remain with us, perhaps, as you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux.

Earlier, when Robin said that he had a reputation for shrewdness, the kindly gentleman replied, “I doubt not that you deserve it.” In context, the gentleman is taking a wait and see position. Now, he has observed Robin in the great crisis of his life. The most satisfactory dramatic reading of the last sentence demands heavy emphasis on the “are.” This motivational pattern may be extended legitimately to rural Massachusetts, which finally chose a comparable solution to a dilemma like Robin’s. Through him we see the back country join the drive for independence.

Source: Bartlett C. Jones, “The Ambiguity of Shrewdness in ’My Kinsman, Major Molineux,’” in Midcontinent American Studies JournalVol. 3, No. 2, Fall, 1962, pp. 42-6.


Benjamin, Park, Review of The Token and Atlantic Souvenir, in American Monthly Magazine,Vol. 2, October, 1836, pp. 405-07; reprinted in The Recognition of Nathaniel Hawthorne, editedby B. Bernard Cohen, University of Michigan Press, 1969, p. 5.

Gross, Seymour, “Hawthorne’s ’My Kinsman, Major Molineux’: History as Moral Adventure,” in Nineteenth-Century Fiction,Vol. 12, September 1957, pp. 97-109; reprinted in Casebook on the Hawthorne Question, editedby Agnes Donohue, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1963, pp. 51-52, 59.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Preface to The House of the Seven Gables,1851; reprinted, Norton, 1967, p. 1.

_______, The Scarlet Letter,1850; Bantam, 1965, pp. 34, 35.

Leavis, Q. D., “Hawthorne as Poet,” part 1, in Sewanee Review,Vol. 59, Spring, 1951, pp. 179-205; reprinted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales: A Norton Critical Edition, editedby James Mclntosh, Norton, 1987, p. 367.

Male, Roy R., Hawthorne’s Tragic Vision,Norton, 1957, p. 49.

McWilliams, John P., Jr., ’” Thorough-Going Democrat’ and ’Modern Tory’: Hawthorne and the Puritan Revolution of 1776,” in Studies in Romanticism,Vol. 15, Fall, 1976, pp. 549-71; reprinted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales: A Norton Critical Edition, editedby James Mclntosh, Norton, 1987, pp. 377-78, 379.

Pearce, Roy Harvey, “Robin Molineux on the Analyst’s Couch,” in Criticism,Vol. 1, 1959, p. 87.

Tuckerman, Henry T., “Nathaniel Hawthorne,” in Southern Literary Messenger,Vol. 17, June, 1851, 344-49; reprinted in The Recognition of Nathaniel Hawthorne, editedby B. Bernard Cohen, University of Michigan Press, 1969, pp. 56-57.

Further Reading

Cohen, B. Bernard, ed., The Recognition of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Selected Criticism since 1828, Universityof Michigan Press, 1969.

Starting with an overview of trends in Hawthorne, this collection of forty-three reviews and critical articles includes reviews by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, William Dean Howells, and T. S. Eliot. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” is not specifically mentioned.

James, Henry, Hawthorne,1879; reprinted, edited by Dan McCall, Cornell University Press, 1998.

This first book-length critical study of Hawthorne is still in print in several editions, and still highly regarded. James appreciates Hawthorne’s genius, but he has been accused of overemphasizing the “provincial” qualities of American life and of Hawthorne’s own life and outlook.

Male, Roy R., Hawthorne’s Tragic Vision,Norton, 1957.

Male traces moral growth as the primary concern of all of Hawthorne’s important works. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” he finds, is the story of Robin’s quest for a father. Only when he breaks free of his dependence on the illusory authority figure is Robin ready to be a man.

Martin, Terence, Nathaniel Hawthorne,Twayne, 1965.

This is an introduction to the life and work of Hawthorne for the general reader. Martin examines Haw-thorne in the context of an early nineteenth-century culture that did not look favorably on imagination and had no great body of imaginative literature. He includes a chronology and annotated bibliography.

Mellow, James R., Nathaniel Hawthorne in His Times, JohnsHopkins University Press, 1998.

Winner of the 1983 National Book Award, this is the standard biography of Hawthorne. At nearly seven hundred pages it is comprehensive but thoroughly readable by a general audience.

Pennell, Melissa McFarland, ed., Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne, GreenwoodPress, 1999.

This examination of Hawthorne is intended for students at the high school and college levels. The chapter on “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” includes material on the setting, plot, themes, and historical context.