My Kinsman, Major Molineux Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 26-page guide for the short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” by Nathaniel Hawthorne includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Complicating the Colonial Patriot Narrative and Naiveté vs. Self-Awareness.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” was published in 1831. Hawthorne notes that it is set “not far from a hundred years ago” (1), suggesting the story takes place in the 1730s. It was first published in an annual collection titled The Token and Atlantic Souvenir. In the 1960s, New England poet Robert Lowell adapted it to stage.
In the opening paragraph, the author provides context for the political climate in which the story is set. He notes that the King of Great Britain appoints colonial governors. Among Massachusetts Bay residents, there is much resentment directed toward the rulers. Over the past 40 years, King James II has appointed six governors; all of them were unpopular, and some were overthrown. Prior to commencing the story’s action, the author instructs the reader to disregard popular accounts of colonial rule.
The protagonist, Robin, is a country-raised young man “of barely eighteen years” (2). He travels to Boston, where he aims to make his start in the world by locating his kinsman, Major Molineux. Robin’s family believes that Molineux is a well-respected governing official who can provide work and connections.
At approximately nine o’clock in the evening, Robin arrives in Boston by ferry. The ferryman observes that Robin is dressed in clothing that is well-worn, but also seemingly well-made. Robin has “brown, curly hair, well-shaped features, and bright, cheerful eyes” (2). Though it is late, and he has traveled a long way, Robin feels energized by his arrival in Boston.
He sets out on foot in search of Major Molineux. Along the way, he sees “small and mean wooden buildings” (2). He cannot believe that his distinguished kinsman would live in such a dilapidated area and decides he will ask strangers to point him in the right direction.
Robin continues his walk, and the city’s appearance improves. From behind, he approaches a well-dressed old man. As they step in front of a barber shop, he grabs the skirt of the man’s coat. Robin bows and formally greets the man. He then asks the man if he knows his kinsman’s whereabouts. The barbers turn their attention to Robin. The old man angrily tells Robin to let go of his coat. During his rebuke of Robin, the old man lets out “two sepulchral hems,” which have a “most singular effect, like a thought of the cold grave obtruding among wrathful passions” (3). The old man tells Robin to show him greater respect or “ feet shall be brought acquainted to with the stocks, by daylight, tomorrow morning” (3).
Robin hears laughter from the men in the barber shop. He walks away, telling himself that the old man’s status must not be high enough for him to know Major Molineux. He continues walking through the city and arrives at its center, but he finds no one around. Eventually, he arrives at an inn, from which he hears the cheerful sounds of many patrons. Upon smelling the food, he realizes he has nothing to eat, nor money to buy provisions. He assumes that his relation to Molineux will bring him a warm welcome.
Inside, there is much smoke and many of the patrons appear to be seamen. Robin does not feel a sense of kinship toward them but does feel sympathy for the few “sheepish countrymen” who are “supping on the bread of their own ovens, and the bacon cured in their own chimney-smoke” (4).
Robin’s attention becomes focused on a man whose “forehead bulge beneath them like fire in a cave” (4).
The innkeeper welcomes Robin and asks him if he wants to…