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Literature / The Maypole of Merry Mount

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"The Maypole of Merry Mount" is a short story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1832 and included in his Twice-Told Tales collection. An effort of Hawthorne's Historical Fiction that dramatized what was at least partially true of the conflicts of the Merrymount settlement in what is now Quincy, Massachusetts.

The people of Merrymount are celebrating a marriage of a young male and female around the ceremonial maypole. Then John Endecott and his Puritan separatists show up and, well, those heathen practices just aren't in-line with their views.

Tropes in this short story:

  • Alliterative Title
  • Bears Are Bad News: Averted, the dancing bear is apparently wholly tamed and peaceful. Endecott assumes this means witchcraft is afoot and orders the bear shot in the head.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The pagans are forced to join the puritans and abandon such frivolity of the maypole but the youths may not actually see that as a bad thing in the long run.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Hawthorne presents us with two groups of people, both of whom came to the New World to escape persecution for their beliefs. However, he also shows that even here one group can just as easily persecute another. But at the same time, he doesn't really let either side present the situation as wholly black-or-white as they might want to present it themselves.
  • Historical Domain Character: Mr. John Endecott leaps out of actual history to bring some sanity to those heathens.
  • Lemony Narrator: Oh so much. Our narrator actually misses the entire confrontation because he is too busy telling us about the past. When he decides to return to the actions the puritans have already won.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: This being a Hawthorne story, the narrator makes mention that the pagans do look like supernatural creatures in metaphors but doesn't seem to be that out of the normal, except the rather unrealistically tame dancing bear.
  • Unreliable Narrator: As mentioned above he misses the entire confrontation.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There most certainly were people who practiced what would be considered pagan practices in this colony back then. There most certainly were puritan separatists who persecuted them because of it in this colony back then. But the story itself more than likely was not how it actually went down.