Nathaniel Hawthorne's My Kinsman, Major Molineux as an Allegory
“May not one man have several voices, Robin, as well as two complexions?” (1261), asks the friendly gentleman in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.” Just as one man may have multiple facets, so too may a story, if we correctly interpret samples of Hawthorne’s work. It seems as though modern readers practically assume that his work ought to be read allegorically, and indeed, The Scarlet Letter, and many other famous works of Hawthorne, are brilliant allegories if they are interpreted as such. And yet, Nathaniel Hawthorne, more than a religious zealot or political advocate, was an avid student of colonial history. We read in the Norton Anthology’s brief biography of Hawthorne that, “[Hawthorne] was steeping himself in colonial history more than the political issues of his time” (1248). Becoming more familiar with the history of his young nation, he even published “a child’s history of colonial and revolutionary New England” (1249). This being as it is, it would do Hawthorne’s short stories a great injustice to dismiss their merit as historical commentaries. Obviously, Hawthorne’s works are multifaceted, and one must determine how to best read and interpret them. Can the reader of Hawthorne’s short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” interpret this work as an allegory, and if he does, what does the story lose in terms of its historical merit?
In many ways, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” lends itself to an allegorical reading. One interpretation may be that the work is more of a bildungsroman than a true allegory. Understanding “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” as such, the reader sees Robin as a simple country youth, endeavoring first to throw of the dominance of his clergyman father in favor of his wealthy uncle’s benevolence, and finally discovering that he can make his way in the world without any help at all. Robin comes from a simple rural life to the bustling colonial city. He endures a tiresome journey through the streets in a search for his uncle, absorbing lessons of city life as he progresses. When he first questions a resident of the town concerning the whereabouts of Major Molineux, he is rudely thwarted. In response to this discourteous lesson, Robin bolsters his spirit saying to himself, “You will become wiser in time, friend Robin” (1252). When Robin’s search ends in the young man witnessing the disgrace of his uncle, he is tempted to leave the city and abandon his journey towards independence. However, a kind stranger encourages him to remain in the city, saying “Perhaps, as you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world, without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux” (1263).
Another reading of this short story is more religiously allegorical—and quite a bit more complex. In this understanding, the city to which Robin journeys symbolizes Hell. Robin enters the city by way of a ferry, which he must pay to take him across a...