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|Title:||Exteriority, Laughter and Comic Sacrifice in Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”|
Department of English, NTNU
|Abstract:||In the final night-carnival scene of Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” (1832), an entire town humiliates the major by laughing at him as he sits tarred-and-feathered in a cart; even his nephew Robin finally joins uncontrollably in the contagious sea of derisive laughter. Here I interpret this as a ritual of “comic sacrifice” by comparing its dynamics with those of the traditional (“tragic”) sacrifice. I look at the dialectical relation between the mindless exteriority of laughing spectators and the intense self-consciousness of the sacrificial victim as a variation on the Girardian middle-distance between spectators and victim, and as another form of the relation between the inquiring Robin’s ignorance and the secret knowledge of the townspeople in a rumorand potentially laughter-filled town. I also take the grotesque figure of the victim as a variation on the tragic-sacrifice victim, who is traditionally seen as a sacred object or “gift”: here the tarred-and-feathered major becomes a onceangelic but now fallen bird-man, and the sacrificial smoke of roasting victims that rises toward the gods becomes the “offering” of contagious laughter rising at the end of the story to the Man in the Moon. Finally, the wasteful excessiveness of this laughter is further discussed in the context of the themes of exteriority, duplicity, falseness and tragic-comic ambiguity in Hawthorne’s two other early night-festival tales, “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and “Young Goodman Brown.”|
|Appears in Collections:||Concentric: Studies in English Literature and Linguistics|
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