“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...
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...eristics of an allegory, it is now apparent that the work contains more dimensions. The reader need not categorize this story, either as an allegory or as an historical commentary. Indeed, there being evidence to support both interpretations, to do so would be a mistake. Allegorically, the story warns the reader that once one enters Hell, he is destined to participate in it forever. Historically, it paints an uniquely sympathetic portrait of British loyalists and their persecution at the hands of colonial patriots. In both respects, Hawthorne’s work has merit. Thus, in answer to the question previously posed, the reader is justified in interpreting “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” as an allegorical work. However, he is not justified in dismissing its historical virtues. Hawthorne’s story can and should be read carefully, with the reader appreciating its many dimensions.
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