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 creative energy of individuals would naturally produce a prosperous order in which all would benefit” (5). These socio-economic changes coincided with radical transformations in the political sphere as well.
Andrew’s Jackson’s election to the presidency in 1830 was particularly significant. Mainly, it expanded the inclusiveness of the political process. Class distinctions were nearly obliterated when Jackson granted suffrage to all men that were white and over 21 (Mackey 64). With this increased participation in government, the common man was elevated to a new and higher plane. This inclusiveness widened the democratic community by including multiple voices and various perspectives, instead of only the select few of the aristocracy.
At the fundamental level of all of these changes was a shift in the relationship between society and the individual. However, this also presented an interesting paradox in the developing democracy: the individual man and the community were both celebrated. As much as individual will and freedom were honored, there was a persistent fear of the societal fragmentation and disorderliness it would bring. 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...