To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Teacher Professional Development Program  contact us | site guide | search 
Teacher Professional Development Program HomeToolbox LibraryThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Culture of the Common Man
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Culture of the Common Man
Text 1. Andrew Jackson
Text 2. Mark Twain
Text 3. Thomas W. Dorr
Text 4. Mechanics/Workers
Text 5. Richard Allen and David Walker
Text 6. Nathaniel Hawthorne
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 7. James Fenimore Cooper
Text 8. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Text 9. John C. Calhoun
Text 10. Walt Whitman

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
6.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," 1831, pub. 1832/1851

Published the same year as Jackson's veto message. Robin, "a youth of barely eighteen" and a second son with no hope of inheriting the farm, arrives in town after dark to seek his kinsman Major Molineux, who, he is sure, will help establish him in the world. He wanders the town, unable to locate the major, until the end of the story when a mob introduces him to his relative. By 1832 the American Revolution was over half a century old. The founding generation had passed from the scene, and a new generation was trying to figure out what kind of country the United States would be. They were, in effect, taking an adolescent nation into adulthood. In this story the initiation of a young man reflects the coming of age of a young nation. Could be used with students. 13 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  Although the story is set before the American Revolution, to what extent is Hawthorne writing about the 1830s?
  ·  How would you characterize the society depicted in the story?
  ·  In what ways is this a distinctly American initiation story?
  ·  What is the significance of the story's urban setting?
  ·  What does Robin have to learn about maneuvering in the new world in which he finds himself?
  ·  What is Hawthorne's attitude toward the common man?
  ·  Note the different cultural groupings Robin encounters. Where does he fit in?
  ·  What is Hawthorne's attitude toward the mob that marches through the town at the story's conclusion?
  ·  What seems to be ascendant in the story—a growing sense of national identity or a sense of national fragmentation?

Reading highlights
  ·  Note how much society is in flux.
  ·  Note the interplay of honor and shame and the way this culture uses them to make one join it.
  ·  Compare Hawthorne's mob with Twain's circus crowd/mob in Huckleberry Finn.
  ·  Compare this story to the Election Day scene in The Scarlet Letter.

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did Americans respond to the emergence of a functioning democracy in which the majority of free adult males could vote?
  •  How did Northerners view the purposes of political rights and power?
  •  How did Southerners view them?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

HOME | Contact Us | Site Guide | Message Boards | Search

Teacher Professional Development Program
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact:
Copyright 2002 National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: June 2006