An Analysis of Hawthorne’s My Kinsman, Major Molineux Essay

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An Analysis of Hawthorne’s My Kinsman, Major Molineux

In the early nineteenth century, America was undergoing profound changes in the political, economic, and social realms. The rise of international commerce and the development of industrialization displaced previous Republican ideologies that valued the community (Matthews 5). Instead, the market became the principal societal system. Significantly, the major agent driving this system was the individual. Thus, a new philosophy of liberal individualism was born that honored the rights and independence of the individual man. It maintained that the individual’s “drive for success” would naturally contribute to the overall good of the community (5). Indeed, “setting free the
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The question was whether this community of different individuals could be brought together as a unified and connected whole or whether they would deteriorate into a disruptive and chaotic mob. Ultimately, the pressing social problem was how to attach the individual back to the community without restraining personal liberties. In its early formative years, America struggled to solve this problem of effectively combining individual rights with the overall good of the democratic community.

Nathaniel Hawthorne undoubtedly had these issues in mind as he wrote “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” in the 1830’s. By setting the tale during the tumultuous time of the American Revolution, Hawthorne creates a parallel between that era and the new Jacksonian democracy. With the American Revolution, the country broke away from an oppressive and established order (Britain). Similarly, with Jacksonian democracy, the country overthrew its own internal oppressive and established order (a class divided system with a privileged aristocracy). However, this also raised many important epistemological questions. With no authority to dictate truth and meaning, how does one come to know anything? When the new country was simply a conglomeration of various and equal perspectives, and there was no existing hierarchy, it became increasingly problematic to determine who was right or correct. These questions allowed the revolution to transgress the
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