My Kinsman, Major Molineux Summary

Nathaniel Hawthorne

My Kinsman, Major Molineux

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

My Kinsman, Major Molineux Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of My Kinsman, Major Molineux by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

“My Kinsman, Major Molineux” is a short story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1831. It is set in the approximate year of 1732, and follows Robin, a not yet 18 young man. He has arrived in Boston on a ferry to look for his kinsman, Major Molineux, a British Colonial government official who promised Robin work. Robin is described as a cheerful, eager boy, and the story begins on a decidedly optimistic tone.

Hawthorne introduces the story with a short piece of historical context. He notes that the British-appointed governors were highly unpopular with the ordinary American townsfolk of Massachusetts. Four of the six governors within a forty-year period had notably unfortunate experiences with the job.

Robin searches for the Major but no one in the town will tell him where he is. Robin approaches a wealthy old man with a cane and grabs his skirt hem, but the man is furious and threatens to have Robin’s feet drawn in stocks. Next Robin tries a nearby inn, where he first sees a man he describes as having a face that looks like the devil; the man has horn-like projections coming from his forehead, and his eyes burn like fire. When Robin asks the innkeeper about Major Molineux he is mocked. The innkeeper insinuates that Robin is an escaped convict, and that there has been a reward posted for his return to jail. Robin notes the hostile environment of the inn and leaves, hearing laughter erupt behind him.

As he walks the streets again, Robin sees a pretty woman dressed in a scarlet petticoat standing in the doorway of a house. He asks her about the Major and the woman tells him that he lives in this house, but he is currently abed. This makes Robin suspicious; though young, he is shrewd, and the Major would be unlikely to live on such a common street or in so small a house. She begins to lead him inside, but movements in the street cause her to flee and hide. Robin sees that the fear was caused by a night watchman, who tells Robin to get home, or he will have Robin arrested (in stocks) again. Robin wisely resists the beautiful woman and flees.

Robin, getting nowhere in his search, passes several groups of men who are dressed strangely and speaking an unfamiliar language. He tries to block the path of a man while passing a church, but it is the devilish man again. This time he looks different, with half of his face painted black and the other red. He tells Robin to wait: the Major will be passing by in an hour’s time.

While waiting, Robin looks into the window of the church and sees an open bible within a moonbeam. He imagines his family back home, his parents and siblings praying. They are thinking of him, and they miss him. His daydream concludes when they finish praying. His sister closes the door of the family home, and Robin feels excluded and lonely.

Robin waits on the steps of a church where he is greeted by an unusually polite, intelligent, and cheerful man. Through this conversation, it is revealed that Major Molineux is Robin’s uncle, who had no children and has taken an interest in helping Robin. Robin describes the black and red faced man, and the gentleman says that he has met him before, and that he is trustworthy; his uncle should indeed appear soon. They both hear sounds of a jovial mob, which appears led by the man with the black and red face. He is dressed in military clothes, and is the only one riding a horse. He looks directly at Robin. The crowd stops, and in the midst is Major Molineux, tarred and feathered. Molineux meets the eyes of his nephew and is severely humiliated.

Everyone Robin had met is present in the mob, full of wild laughter and merriment. Robin soon joins in the laughter, louder than all the rest. It is noteworthy that though publicly humiliated, Major Molineux maintains an air of dignity and majesty. This, along with his severe depictions of the townspeople, showcases Hawthorne’s sympathies for Molineux.

Disillusioned by the truth of what his uncle is, Robin asks the polite gentleman for directions back to the ferry, but is encouraged to wait a few days, he can still thrive in the colony without the help or protection of Major Molineux.

The tarring and feathering of Molineux was an act enforced by American colonists to demonstrate their displeasure with the British ruling power. By choosing to laugh at his uncle, Robin demonstrates two things. He is wise enough to understand that not laughing along with the townspeople would brand him as a sympathiser and an outsider, and would likely cause the mob to turn on him. It also symbolises a personal and political independence for Robin, and a significant moment in his coming of age. The themes of coming of age, independence, and a quest for identity are doubly present in the story, often considered a parable for America’s coming of age, or quest for independence from the British.

Another significant theme is that of the dream. There are many elements of the nightmarish, frustrated goals, fantastic dream-like sequences, and a muddling of fancy versus reality, which suggests the possibility that the entire experience of Boston might be a product of Robin’s dream. On top of this, the gentleman asks Robin near the end of the story if he is dreaming, but there is no conclusive answer given. Other themes include alienation, obedience versus authority, diversity in voices, patriotic fervour, and change.