Significance of Robin’s Laugh in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Story

Categories: Nathaniel Hawthorne

A discussion of a particular incident in the story which describes the character Robin, ejaculating a boisterous laugh after witnessing the procession that served to penalize his kinsman, Major Molineux, despite his searching for this particular character in the earlier parts of the story because he considered this character someone who could help him in his pursuit to discover life in a town; the paper explores how this particular pivotal moment reveals the character of Robin, his intentions, other than finding Major Molineux, and the development of his fondness for the town his was in and its people.

My Kinsman, Major Molineux’ is a period story by Nathaniel Hawthorne written in the gothic genre of story telling. It is about a young country lad named Robin who sets out to the city in search of his uncle, Major Molineux. During his quest to find his uncle he encounters various people who have a common reaction to his inquiry of where his uncle lives – all of those he asks either laugh at him or are hostile towards his inquiry.

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This causes the young Robin to become defensive of his uncle, and instead of interpreting this common reaction as a sign of ridicule for his uncle, he slinks back into himself and simply dismisses the reactions as a sort of misunderstanding of the way he understands his uncle to be.

In the end, Robin finally finds his uncle laden on a cart, ‘tarred and feathered’ (Hawthorne) amid a rowdy crowd in a parade, drowned by shouts and laughter.

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As Robin witnesses this incident with a ‘gentleman’ (Hawthorne) who waited with him for the arrival of his uncle, he laughed as well, in fact his laugh was louder than those of the townsfolk who were participating in the procession of Major Molineux.

This particular laugh of Robin is a pivotal point in the climax of the story and can be interpreted in three ways – first, as an illustration of the character of Robin, second as a manifestation of his intentions, and third, as a testament of his newfound affinity with the town that he visited to search for Major Molineux. As an illustration of Robin’s character, his laugh in the terminal part of the story can be described in terms of the style it was presented by the author.

Prior to Robin’s laugh, Hawthorn describes in detail the circumstances leading to this pivotal moment. It will be noted that during the climax Hawthorne presents a roster of all the people that Robin met earlier during his search; “just behind the corner of the church stood the lantern-bearer”, (Hawthorne) “a saucy eye met his, and he saw the lady of the scarlet petticoat”, (Hawthorne) “with his white apron over his head, he beheld the courteous little innkeeper”, (Hawthorne) and “In front of the Gothic window, stood the old citizen”.

(Hawthorne) This cataloguing of the acquaintances of Robin during the climax of the story presents a nightmarish, avant-garde imagery, and at the same time invokes the effect of symbolism in lending focus to Robin and what he was about to do; consequently, “Robin seemed to hear the voices of the barbers, of the guests of the inn, and all who made sport of him that night” (Hawthorned) and “it seized upon Robin, and he sent forth a shout of laughter that echoed through the street…Robin’s shout was the loudest there”.

(Hawthorne) The passages that catalogue the people that Robin met create an image of a youth who is given to exposure to various types of elements in his search for a father figure, Major Molineux. His refusal to give in to these shows how Robin reacts despite his vulnerability.

In the crux of the climax, when Robin succumbs to his own laugh, he is presented to be someone who is vindicated, as perhaps he had prior perceptions of what his uncle might be as he was actually unaware of what to expect, like when he was asked if he would recognize the Major, he said, “Indeed, I can’t warrant it, sir; but I’ll take my stand here” (Hawthorne) So, here we have a picture of a young lad who is totally clueless about what he is looking for, and in the symbolism presented by the author in the cataloguing of Robin’s acquaintances, Robin is presented to be someone who has a previous notion of his father figure, and that father figure is not what he saw in the people that he met. Finally, when he does meet the Major, he finds that even his kinsman was not a picture of his ideal father figure, and so, technically, in the end of the story, Robin does not find what he is looking for yet, but allows himself the liberty of the moment.

A certain level of cowardice can also be detected in circumstances after Robin’s laugh as the author writes about him, “he withdrew his arm from the stone post to which he had instinctively clung, as the living stream rolled by him” (Hawthorne) This passage illustrates how, despite his participation in the frolic of the crowd, Robin wanted to hold his stand and not be swayed by the fuller intentions of the throng. He also exhibits a certain level of remorse for laughing, as shown in the lines, “His cheek was somewhat pale, and his eye not quite as lively as in the earlier part of the evening. ” (Hawthorne) Here, the loss of the liveliness that he earlier possessed shows a certain level of thought on Robin’s part; that perhaps, his laughing along with the crowd was not proper if taken in the context of his search for Major Molineux. Robin also reveals his intentions, those beyond his pursuit for his kinsman, with his laughing heartily in the story’s climax.

Hawthorne uses a mix of metaphor and imagery to achieve this revelation in the later part of the story as in, “The cloud spirits peeped from their silvery islands, as the congregated mirth went roaring up the sky” (Hawthorne) This particular passage comes after the description of Robin’s laugh being “the loudest there” (Hawthorne) and the passage isolates the laugh of Robin from the ‘congregated mirth’ (Hawthorne), hence revealing a deeper intention on his part, in contrast to the intention of the throng which was merely to drive the Major away by ‘tarring and feathering’ (Hawthorne) him. Robin, with his laugh, and in relation to the metaphor of stars in the passage following, very subtlely indicates an intention of discovery – that other than just finding his kinsman, Robin came to the town to explore new horizons and to journey into self-discovery. With his laugh, Robin is liberated from the initial intention of finding the Major and introduced by his new liberty into the real world – where, as he comes of age, there are many more personages to consider, than just the bigotry of focusing on one particular personality in his search for growth and progress.

Finally, with Robin’s laugh and the circumstances succeeding this laugh, another side of this lad is revealed; his desire to remain in the town, and his acclimatization to the people in the town. This acclimatization is revealed when Robin implies that he had ‘grown weary of town life’ (Hawthorne) in connection to his discovering his kinsman. This meager or shallow reason that he offers for his becoming tired of town life clearly demarcates his developed affinity for the town as opposed to his disgust for it related to his weary feeling of town life resulting from his assumption that the Major ‘will scarce desire to see my (his) face again’ (Hawthorne).

His laugh, alone, when described as a result of the multitudes’ ‘seizing upon Robin’ (Hawthorne) is enough evidence as to how the town and its people has grown into his nerves; it should be considered to this effect that ‘tarring and feathering’ (Hawthorne) was a form of punishment intended to drive away someone from the town, but Robin’s participation in the frolic indicates that he was given to the form of punishment, accepted that his kinsman deserved it, and that he was quite fond of what he witnessed. The author leaves the reader hanging in the end because there is no reference as to whether Robin actually decides to stay or to leave, but earlier references as to Robin’s decision to leave the country and venture into town life very well resonates whan he is asked by the gentleman, “You have, then, adopted a new subject of inquiry?

” (Hawthorne) to which Robin replies, “Why yes sir,” (Hawthorne) discreetly validating that Robin’s new ‘subject of inquiry’ (Hawthorne) has nothing to do with Major Molineux anymore and everything to do with himself. The author uses a clever mix of metaphor and symbolism to achieve these three things in the story with the use of a very ordinary pivot point, the laugh of Robin. It will be noticed that the enthusiasm of Robin in finding Major Molineux pervades almost sixty percent of the entire story, so it is very unlikely that the reader would expect such a reaction from him in the end; but as a means of totally destroying audience expectation, Hawthorne makes Robin do what is least expected of him.

This particular device achieves what would be termed in fiction as a ‘complete turn around’. In more traditional forms of literature, this is also known as a surprise ending. However, in the case of Robin, it is more of a psychological crux than it is a surprise ending. The quality of his laugh also alludes to the psychological aspect of the story. Hence, it is not just an empty laugh, but a laugh that either validates or invalidates the subject matter of the story, being his search for Major Molineux. The quaint and very subtle ending that succeeds this laugh is a device used to taper down the tension in the story and allowing it to plateau.

Hawthorne does not underestimate his readers in this story in that he successfully makes his audience think as to what happens next. This allows a certain level of participation from the audience which is very unorthodox, especially in a story that takes the third person perspective. However, because of this particular quality, the story acquires a certain degree of mystery, which is very common in this genre of fiction. The story in its entirety is an allegory of how the Americans perceived the British. Hawthorne, using the third person narrative style in the story, achieves an ‘aquarium’ effect, or the effect of the reader looking into a snippet/slice of life.

The suffusion of symbols in the story do not only indicate various perceptions of the Americans, but also, on a more individual level, represent the stereotypes that Robin, as a Brit, is looking for in his travails to a new land. The crux of the story, being Robin’s laugh, uses the very unique device of indifference in dialogue and theatrics to reveal the character of Robin, his intentions, and finally, his development of a certain level of fondness for his new discoveries, discoveries about himself, and a newfound liberty from traditional type casts and stereotypes.


Hawthorne, N. (1831). My Kinsman, Major Molineux. Retrieved April 6, 2009, http://eldritchpress. org/nh/mm. html

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Significance of Robin’s Laugh in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Story. (2016, Nov 26). Retrieved from

Significance of Robin’s Laugh in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Story

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