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The Maypole of Merry Mount by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Barbara Kubica

on 25 December 2013

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Transcript of The Maypole of Merry Mount by Nathaniel Hawthorne

by Nathaniel Hawthorne The Maypole of Merry Mount Summary Summary Summary The meaning Historical Background The Meaning The Meaning Two hundred years ago, many people from Europe decided to move to the west, conquering new lands like Northern America. But the colonists of Merry Mount were unique. They were fun-loving and peaceful people, who just wanted to celebrate their lives. The sudden growth of Puritanism turned out to be an obstacle... Settlers of Merry Mount worshiped the maypole, which they decorated with flowers or leaves, depending on season, danced around it, called it “altar” or “religion”, and played games around it. They did no harm to the Puritans living nearby. Nevertheless, Puritans stroke down on them, as Merry Mount’s settlers were considered to be savages. A feud of historical importance arose between the two groups; as Hawthorne writes, ‘the future complexion of New England was involved in this important quarrel.’ One midsummer eve, the inhabitants of Merry Mount hold a festival to celebrate the joining of the Lord and Lady of the May. The Lady of the May, Edith, told her new husband that she believed that their jovial friends were only visions, and that their happiness wasn't real. When the two began to love each other truly, they sensed something “unsubstantial in their former pleasures”. The love between them made them subject to earth’s “doom of care and sorrow". The Lady contemplated death even in this most joyous occasion.
Suddenly, the Puritans attacked the gathering. Their leader, Endicott, cut down the Maypole. He began to sentence the captive Merry Mount settlers to whippings and other punishments. He also ordered the dancing bear shot because he sensed witchcraft. He sensed in the pair a “youthful beauty” that seemed “pure and high” when he looked at Edith and Edgar. The May Lord asked Endicott to let his wife go untouched. Endicott was touched by the expression of love from the couple, which was unique for settlers of Merry Mount. He decided that the two have hope for reform, and threw a wreath over their heads. The couple followed the Puritans, without wasting “one regretful thought on the vanities of Merry Mount.” The tale about the Maypole of Merry Mount has a historical background. Back in 1625 a trader Wollaston with Thomas Morton and 30 or 40 other settlers could not stand the strict rules of the Puritan colony of Plymouth and established their own village, Mount Wollaston, renamed later as “Ma-re Mount”. “Ma-re” could have been derived from Latin word for sea, as the village was situated by the sea, but also could have suggested the word “merry”. In preparation for May Day celebrations a barrel of beer was brewed and a special song prepared. The adorned pine pole, which could serve as a landmark to guide people to the village, was raised. The village was a place of joyful festivities, until raided by the Puritans, which resulted in Morton's exile. The tale illustrates the tension between strict Puritans and pleasure-seeking Merrymakers.

Hawthorne does not approve of any of presented attitudes – neither strict ways of the Puritans nor the hedonistic practices of the Merrymakers. Both seem to be too extreme. The Puritans, who lead a gloomy life and deny themselves pleasures in order to avoid sin, finally find a sadistic joy in tormenting other people, while the colonists of Merry Mount, who try to avoid suffering through the constant pursuit of hedonistic pleasures, seem to forget what a real happiness is. There is no understanding between those two groups. Their ways of seeing the world differ too much. The eponymous maypole is considered by the Puritans as a symbol of an idol worship, paganism and maybe even sexual license, while to the settlers of the Merry Mount it represents a joyful way of life. What really matters is love, which bounded together a young couple, Edith and Edgar, and gave them strength in the face of threat posed by the Puritans. They realize that their lives will not be free from suffering, but they know that they can endure everything as long as they are standing firmly side by side.The love between young couple impresses the leader of Puritans, Endicott. It is not absolutely clear whether he is moved and softened by their attitude or rather he sees in them as potential to convert who would serve as an example that it is possible to eradicate bad habits. Presentation based on sources:

Prepared by:
Justyna Sieradzan
Monika Sznajder
Michał Zawadzki
Barbara Kubica

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