Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories Summary and Analysis

In Hawthorne’s My Kinsman, Major Molieux, the main protagonist Robin undergoes an explicit change, which can be best described as a form of existential delusion, which is engendered by an encounter with the outside world. That is to say that Robin, in his journey to Boston in order to find his relative Molieux, begins as an optimistic young traveler, but is soon confronted with what are arguably Hawthorne’s symbolic personifications of evil, above all in the form of the man with the red and black face. Robin’s own inner journey is, in a sense, recapitulated in the duality of this face, which is undoubtedly a face of horror:  the duality of the face expresses the duality of worlds, a transition from one point to another that is Robin’s journey itself, according to which the naivety of youth is forcibly accosted by an outside world whose forces are, to use Biblical language, fallen. This fallen world is a corrupted world, where a simple outward journey becomes, through the encounter with the outside world, an inner transformative journey: in the case of Robin, this interior metamorphosis appears to be not for the better.

This existential destruction reaches its pronounced apex when Robin views his kinsman Molieux tarred and feathered: it is the man with the red and black face who leads the procession of the mob who has so indicted Molieux. Here, the search for a relative becomes a radical humiliation: if this search for a kinsman may be understood through a symbolic reading as a search for self, in so far as a kinsman represents a so-called blood relative, then this self is humiliated by the red and black faced man, that is, by the radical outside world that is, for Hawthorne, a cruel world. The change in Robin can only be considered a change for the worse, as he laughs with the mob at the end of the narrative: he has become this same mob, the mass of inhumane humanity that is the source of his delusion throughout the narrative.

Hawthorne nevertheless complicates this narrative with the final plot twist: Robin asks to be taken away from the city, whereas a man asks him not to depart via the ferry. This open ending suggests perhaps that Robin has to accept his inner transformation or not. Judging by Robin’s aforementioned laughter, which he has inherited from the mob, it would seem that this delusion has in fact penetrated his soul: Robin perhaps would not leave the city, as he had intended but remain in the city. In this remaining is the completion of his existential delusion that is the annihilation of his hope. Whereas the reason for remaining would be, as the man who asks him to remain suggests, to make his own way in the world, without the help of his relative, can it not be said that the decision to remain in this world, a world with a black and red faced man who is a clear example of the most profound evil, be understood as a complicity with this same profound evil? Or could it be construed as a decision to fight this evil? This is the complexity of Hawthorne’s text, one which mirrors the complexity of the psychological change in Robin throughout the narrative.