Nathaniel Hawthorne

In this piece, Hawthorne foreshadows the fate of the Major Molineux throughout the piece.  Even if the reader does not pick up on the exact details of what happens to the Mayor ( like on page 294, “the smell of tar…”) on the first read, the reader still senses a disturbance that makes them want to continue on with the story and re-read it again to see the hints that are obvious to the reader after they learn of Major Molineux’s fate.

This story, though dark, is a coming of age story.  We have young Robin, who is naive, but still sure of himself.  When he comes into the city, he thinks that the citizens would be glad to help him unite with his uncle, but when people either laugh at him or dismiss him, he becomes angry and thinks like a child would think; to want to do physical harm.  “Oh, if I had one of theses grinning rascals in the woods, where I and my oak sapling grew up together, I would teach him that my arm is heavy…” At the end of the story, Robin has to choose to grow up and be independent or get on the ferry and go back to the farm.  When Robin first came to the town, he thought that it would be an easy transition for him to fully grow up because he thought he would be respected because of Mayor Molineux’s status, but at the end of the story, he wants to return to his rural life.  At the end, the gentleman says ” as you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world, without the help of your kinsman.”  The audience does not know what Robin chooses to do, but what do people think?  Do you think that he will go back or make a new life for himself?  Personally, I believe that he will stay in the town and make a life for himself because when we spoke about the American dream in class, we said that the American dream was that if you worked hard, you could achieve what you want, so in becoming independent, Robin can be respected and have a good life.

The part in this story that really sticks out to me is when Robin laughs.  Did that shock anyone else?  I’ll admit, when I read this story the first time, I thought Robin had gone insane, but upon reading it a second time, I came up with two explanations to why he did this and I really want to know if anyone either agrees or if anyone has a different interpretation. 

1.  He laughed because he was shocked.  For some people, when presented with anger or fear, the laugh out of nerves.  It would make sense because, after all, the people he saw in the mob were carting around his tarred relative.   Also, the fact that “Robin’s knees shook, and his hair bristled with a  mixture of pity and terror,” shows that he was physically shocked by what happened to his kinsman.

2. He is trying not to look like a sympathizer.  Right before Robin laughs, he sees all of the townspeople that he asked for the where about of his kinsman, Mayor Molineux.  So, they all know that Robin and the now tarred Mayor know each other, and in order to not get tarred himself, “Robin’s shout was the loudest.” 

Why do people think that Hawthorne chose to include the beginning paragraph? Why do people think of the double-faced man?

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4 Responses to Nathaniel Hawthorne

  1. vlevasseur11 says:

    I agree with you that Robin would most likely stay in the city to make a life of his own. It seems as though Hawthorne is trying to emphasize a change in America’s social structure over time. Originally, Major Molineux may have had an advantage because he inherited riches and acquired civil and military rank, but the more revolutionary sentiments that arose in the mid to late 1700s may have diminished the importance of this type of status. Thus, after seeing Major Molineux in “tar-and-feathery dignity,” Robin might have realized that he no longer needed this connection to be successful. This is evident on page 604: “Then Robin seemed to hear the voices of the barbers; of the guests of the inn; and of all who had made the sport of him that night…all at once, it seized upon Robin, and he sent forth a shout of laughter that echoed through the street; every man shook his sides, every man emptied his lungs, but Robin’s shout was the loudest there.”
    Thus, I think the point of Robin’s laughter was to signify his understanding that he not longer needs someone like Major Molineux to find what he needs in the world.

    • emcd23 says:

      I agree with Vicki that the overall implication seems to be that Robin is being forced into a choice between the old social structure and the new, but I don’t think that his laugh demonstrates any sort of understanding. The laugh reads to me as a mixture of shock and the “contagion” of the mob mentality; Robin is seeing the faces of all of these threatening, cruel, low-born citizens who have “made sport of him all night,” and it just seems to suddenly hit him that the common people in this vicious crowd now have all the power that used to belong to the man “grown grey in honor” (p. 604). Since he’s already in a state of “mental inebriety,” it may be that the ridiculousness of this power swap just tips his fear over into a wild laugh.
      This interpretation seems supported by the fact that, right after the mob passes, Robin has “instinctively clung” to a pole, is pale, and is ready to leave (605). There’s no enthusiasm about a new social order. If we admit that the gentleman he’s with has a point about rising in the world independently, “without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux,” it seems that we should perhaps also admit that the value of that independence is going to take some time to come to terms with. As it is, independence may not seem worth all the reckless violence, especially when that violence is led by “fiends” who readily “[trample] all on an old man’s heart” (605).

  2. jordancosby says:

    The inital laughter of Robin, on the surface, represents his understanding that if he shows some kind of sympathy, he might face the same fate as Molineux, especially given his already unwelcomed arrival. Robin’s response shows his instinct for survival over loyalty to the past and to promised riches. He becomes a patriot, so to speak, instead of a British sympathizer. He even, shrewdly, referes to the townspeople as friends toward the end, a tactic to his own benefit. Robin is ready to return home but his gentleman friend points out to Robin that his decision to laugh at the crucial moment was also a personal declaration of independence. “As you are a shrewd youth,” the gentleman says, “you may rise in the world without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux” (paragraph 90). Thus, I believe that, upon realizing his own potential and identity, Robin will choose to stay in Boston.

  3. carnold13 says:

    When i read this, I was also shocked by Robin’s laughter. I wasn’t sure why he was laughing at first, but as I thought about it, I felt that he might have been laughing because he didn’t want to appear to the mob as someone who sympathizes with this man that they had just publicly ridiculed. He might have wanted to fit in to this new place that he had just traveled to, and not stick out in a negative way. It might have also been out of shock. He had worked so hard and traveled so far to find this man who had promised him a better life than the one that had been offered to him on the farm that he grew up on, he saw the irony in his meeting of Molineux. He laughed because this dream that he had been riding was just stripped out from under him and torn to shreds, and the shock of it made him laugh instead of respond in the normal way of being embarrased or defending Molineux. He realised that his new dream was dead, and he wanted to go back to the farm, but his new friend that had waited for him to meet Molineux encouraged him to stay and give city life a try. I believe that he probably did end up staying and living in the city, because the author gave him the personality of someone who is willing to stick out some difficulties in order to seek a better life.

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