The story is about a young man’s search for a man that he and his father thought could help him to have a good fortune – Major Molineux, cousin of the boy’s father. However, in the end, after all that he went through, he was dismayed, yet another friend encouraged him to stay in the city and see if he could earn a fortune without the help of his kinsman. The story opens with a description of the time when the story took place. This is perhaps important as in epics which seek the reference of the events in the narrative.
Here, the introduction gives the readers a clue regarding the time and place, thereby creating a good background for the readers to understand the story even if the reader is from a distant time or place (Hawthorne and Harding 37). It is in the second paragraph where Hawthorne starts the narration of Robin’s quest. Hawthorne describes the scene thus, “It was near nine o'clock of a moonlight evening, when a boat crossed the ferry with a single passenger (Hawthorne and Harding 37). ” This is already the initiation stage of the journey. Together with the description of his clothes that were made to last (coarse shirt, leather boots, etc. , it was obvious that he was in for long journey. He looked the place, clueless of the place where his kinsman could be. So he is left to the last resort of asking for directions from people he would meet on the way (Hawthorne and Harding 38). It can be noted that he asked for help several times, but he found none, except in the later part of the story when he forced an old man and another person volunteered to stay with him to wait for his kinsman. The separation is described in later paragraphs as a flashback through a narrative from the hero – Robin.
The separation stage tells us that he and his family had high hopes (Hawthorne and Harding 56). His brother took his placer in plowing the fields and his mother sew for him his clothes, hoping for the best that he could have. This is a very timely part in the story to narrate, because it brings the reason of the journey closer to the dismay that was about to take place, which was to evoke the hero’s return as a failure. It could have been a failure. In fact, he asked his friend twice to lead him back to the ferry, but the return was delayed by an optimistic invitation to stay longer (Hawthorne and Harding 56).
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The story ends there, but from the hints that he was a “shrewd youth (Hawthorne and Harding 56)”, we can guess that with guidance from his new friend, he could have a good life in the city and return to his home with success to talk about. Why one should Read Thoreau’s Walden Walden is not a novel or an epic. It was not considered a masterpiece during his time. In fact, his mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson was disappointed with it (Alsen 242). Indeed, few of his contemporaries would have presumed that Walden would be treated with as much importance as it is being treated now in Literature.
But what is it in Walden that makes it a must to read for anyone studying Literature, Philosophy and American culture? First, we can note that it is a product of a man’s solitude. Thoreau wrote it in deep solitude, that his ideas must have flowed with enthusiasm. As he was a literary genius, a work he wrote in such a state is worth reading. Take for example, the narratives he wrote in Walden about the battle of ants. In the recount, he extensively described what happens in a combat between red and black ants (Thoreau 162).
This recount is worth a student’s time because the scenes depicted are not everyday scenes one can see in the city or even in the gardens or woods. He made apostrophes in reference to Homer’s Iliad, which now shows a style that is worth emulating. The learning one can get from this short part of the book is difficult to find, unless one would spend his time patiently in the woods like Thoreau did. To consider things more, many of the things Thoreau wrote, he learned serendipitously. Hence, even if one would spend time like he did, there is no assurance he could come across the same encounters.
In all these, his work teaches the younger generations to have respect for life, for nature. The Battle of the Ants is a classic example of primitive life lived by other creatures that co-exist with us in the woods, in gardens and in ponds (Thoreau 162). Like us, they struggle for life and power, so we ought to co-exist with them rather than kill them. Romanticism in Hawthorne and Thoreau Hawthorne’s My Kinsman, Major Molineux and Thoreau’s Walden are two very different genres of literature, but they share elements of romanticism. First, I will define romanticism based on what experts say.
Romanticism, according to Peckham in Adams is to have the goal of originating from something that has never existed before (Adams 2). It is therefore not the adherence to existing standards, but the creation of beautiful things based on one’s own standards of beauty and wisdom. So, starting with Walden, we can see the presence of romanticism. It was written not in the form any literary piece has been written before. He wrote based on a keen observation with no conscious consideration of any standards in writing during his time, thus many of his contemporaries did not like his work primarily because it was odd.
Hawthorne’s story, on the other hand presents a different kind of plot. In most stories that we know, a hero leaves his home and promises to come home with victory. Usually, the hero fulfils his mission. Not Hawthorne’s Robin. Robin went through the stages of a hero’s journey, but he did not get what he initially wanted. He did not get help from the people he expected would help him and when he found the person he was looking for, he decided to go home in dismay.
But life had to go on for him, so instead of going home, he would surely stay awhile and see what the city had in store for a boy as shrewd as he. This makes the story more useful than those with happy endings, for it teaches a reality about life – one does not get all that he wants right away. The romantic element that the two works shared was the novelty of their ideas and concepts. The authors did not adhere to conventions, but created their masterpieces based on what they thought would be beautiful or useful.
Transcendentalism in Walden and Self-Reliance Both authors, Thoreau and Emerson, being mentor and student to one another must have had similar philosophies. And indeed, Thoreau is a believer of Emerson’s concept on self-reliance. The term self-reliance itself points out to another philosophical doctrine during their time – transcendentalism. Transcendentalism is a reaction against scientific rationalism, thereby teaching that intuition is the only way to understand reality in a world where “every natural fact embodies a spiritual truth” (Emerson 205).
Hence, Transcendentalists discount external authority and tradition and depend on firsthand experience. So, the motto is “Trust Thyself” (Emerson and Carlyle 47). So how Walden and Self-Reliance live up to Transcendentalism? First, it should be noted that Thoreau’s work was written largely based on his experience in Walden Pond. Next, the ideas put forward by Thoreau in Chapter 1, “Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength (Thoreau 6). This definitely reflects two things – one, learning based on his experience at the pond; second, the doctrine of trusting oneself, because one is provided with what he needs to survive if he will just work to get it. Walden actually echoes the teachings of Emerson Self-Reliance, where his mentor attacked those who believed in luck or fortune (Emerson and Carlyle 54)) Emerson points out that what we see as luck is actually a result one’s persistence, so when the opportune moment comes, the one who did not waste time would be ready to seize the moment.
This leads to an extension of Transcendentalist ideas. Trusting oneself does not mean being arrogant, but using one’s time efficiently. It does not mean disregarding religion, for there is one Great Soul above everyone. But as that Great Soul is just, He will give success to those that deserve it, because they worked for it.
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