Symbolism in "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Major Molineux governed Boston, but his authority was rejected.
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Nathaniel Hawthorne often explored political and religious themes in his works, and in his short story "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," he brings the two together. In it, the young Robin travels to America to find his uncle, who is the governor in Boston. Robin soon finds him, and when he does, he learns a lesson about life in the Colonies. Symbolism is used throughout the story to explain that lesson and to underscore the themes of the story.

1 Major Molineux

Major Molineux himself is a symbol of authority and of Great Britain. He is described as a "large and majestic person" with "strong, square features, betaking a steady soul." To Robin, he is a father figure and a symbol of authority. To the townspeople, he is a symbol not just of British rule but also of British values. The townspeople tar and feather him to symbolically claim their independence and to send a message to British leaders that they will not be ruled.

2 Young Robin

Robin is a symbol of America and its new settlers. He is young and inexperienced, just as American society is young and unformed. Throughout his journey to find Major Molineux, Robin encounters men who tell him "I have the authority" or who claim their authority in some other way, just as the colonists have been under the authority of Britain. Yet by the end of the story, he is ready to assert his own authority, and he demands to know where Major Molineux is, just as the colonists are ready to assert their authority and rebel. When he sees Major Molineux, he does not let others know that they are related, symbolically rejecting Molineux just as the colonists reject their ties to Britain.

3 Two-Faced Man

Near the end of the story, a man appears to Robin whose face is red on one side and black on the other. Robin thinks of him as a two-faced devil. The man is symbolic of the colonists' protest against British rule. The red on his face symbolizes passion, fighting and war, while the black symbolizes death and grief. The colonists at this stage in the story are ready to fight, which may lead to a larger battle and to war.

4 Moon on the Bible

By rejecting British rule and customs, the colonists in the story also rejected British religious tradition. This is symbolized in Robin's vision of the moon hitting the open bible in the church. The moon symbolizes night, death and endings. Its one ray shines directly on the bible, suggesting an end of traditions associated with it. Robin then fantasizes about being shut out of a church service, foreshadowing his assertion of independence and rejection of British custom later in the story.

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.