‘The Maypole Of Merry-Mount’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Maypole Of Merry-Mount by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1832

The magic trick:

Creating an allegory that cuts both ways

Hawthorne makes it plain from the start. The facts “have wrought themselves almost spontaneously into a sort of allegory,” he writes in the story’s prologue.

So the reader is then in the position of looking for allegorical meaning, and we get an obvious place to start in the revelers at the maypole. These crazy kids are out of control, right? They must be punished for their devilish ways.

That’s how it seems at least. Until the puritans arrive on the scene, and we notice the way the story frames their point of view. Maybe, the reader thinks, we should be judging them instead of the revelers? Maybe that’s the allegory?

Ah, but that’s the thing – maybe it’s both. Maybe the allegory settles on both the revelers and the puritans.

And that’s quite a trick on Hawthorne’s part.

The selection:

Such were the colonists of Merry Mount as they stood in the broad smile of sunset round their venerated Maypole. Had a wanderer bewildered in the melancholy forest heard their mirth and stolen a half-affrighted glance, he might have fancied them the crew of Comus, some already transformed to brutes, some midway between man and beast, and the others rioting in the flow of tipsy jollity that foreran the change; but a band of Puritans who watched the scene, invisible themselves, compared the masques to those devils and ruined souls with whom their superstition peopled the black wilderness.

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