The United States experienced great political, social and economic change during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Breaking ties with Great Britain under the Declaration of Independence developed a unique American tradition. The major emphasis was placed on the individual, whose need to succeed would result in the best possible world for everyone concerned. In the two works "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorn, the main characters Robin and Young Goodman Brown go on personal journeys to seek their individual goals. Robin seeks a kinsman who can help him establish his future livelihood and Brown searches to restore his faith and the evil in his heart. They both each reach a goal, yet not the one expected.
In "My Kinsman," a naive and inexperienced youth named Robin leaves his country home and travels to the city looking for his cousin Major Molineux, an aristrocrat who has "manifested much interest" in him, and thrown out hints respecting [his] future establishment... In life." As a younger son, Robin cannot inherit his father's farm and needs his kinsman Molineux for help.
In this new urban world, Robin wonders at the "gay and gallant figures" who wear "garments of showy colors, enormous periwigs, gold-laced hats, and silver-hilted swords." He sees "imitators of the European fine gentleman of the period, (treading) jauntily along, half dancing to the fashionable tunes which they hummed, and making Robin ashamed of his quiet and natural gait." He even confuses a prostitute for a maiden. Hawthorne thus depicts the old and the new ways of life in New England, and they are very different, especially from what Robin has experienced.
And such societal changes bring religious ones as well. New England has become worldly or secularized with quiet, empty pews as compared to deep belief in the Scriptures that his father used to read. In bidding farewell to his family home, Robin is embarking on a whole new world of social experience and religious views. The strength he receives from his rural life and family support is decreasing; his self-esteem is nearly lost.
Through his fatigue and hunger, his mind travels back and forth from his country ways to this new tradition around him," But still his mind kept vibrating between fancy and reality." He continues to believe that the gentlemanly Major Molineux will help him find his way, until even this hope is ended with the sight of his rich uncle tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on an uncovered cart. At the end of the story, Robin believes his quest is done. He seeks the ferry to return home.
Yet Hawthorne leaves the reader and Robin with hope for another day. A kindly gentleman guide gives him a new goal -- making it in the world on his own as an independent and free individual. He will not rely on the finances of someone else, but will be forced to "rise in the world" without the help of his kinsman. Perhaps through his new experiences, he will learn enough to survive on his own. Robin may be hesitant, but the gentleman is confident that he will succeed.
The journey for Goodman Brown is in marked contrast to Robin's. In this story, the main character is seeking a conversion experience into the realms of strict Puritanism. His desperate search is for a total goodness of man, with no malevolence and evil. He cannot accept that in society the good and bad go hand-in-hand. There is no world that is sin free.
Brown thus turns his back on the Salem village in order to venture into dark nature and his darker self... reject (ing) the society which has nurtured him from the self-willed terrors of the imagination. He also leaves his wife Faith, "aptly named" and "a blessed angel" behind for this unspecified errand in the forest, a regular locale for demonic activity. He anticipates the event that will take place: "There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,' said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him, as he added, 'What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!'" He, like Robin, is unsure…
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