2 hundred years ago, numerous who resided in the “old world” decided to venture away, settling to the West. Many went on trips to dominate empires, or take part in trade. However, the colonists of Merry Mount were a different sort of individuals– they were the merrymakers of the town, the minstrels, wandering players, rope-dancers, and “mirth makers of every sort”. Their livelihoods were interrupted by the growth of Puritanism, and so they discovered the sea to settle at Merry Mount. The mirth might have only been a “fake of joy,” but they “would not venture amongst the sober realities of life not even to be really blest”.
The inhabitants of Merry Mount especially venerated the Maypole, which they embellished with flowers in the summertime and leaves in the fall. They danced around it monthly, and “called it their “religion, or their altar”. They took part in sports and activities, such as teaching a bear to dance, or playing blind man’s bluff.
Not far away, however, lived a settlement of Puritans, who fasted to strike down savages and were solemn in their processions. If a man in their group danced, he would be penalized on the whipping post. A feud of historical value arose in between the two groups; as Hawthorne writes, ‘the future skin tone of New England was associated with this crucial quarrel.”
One summer eve, the inhabitants of Merry Mount hold a festival to celebrate the joining of 2 youths, the Lord and Lady of the Might. Edith, the girl of the Might, bears sad appearance in her eyes, a sadness that was “high treason” at Merry Mount. She tells her new hubby that she believes that their jovial good friends are only visions, which their joy is not genuine. Edgar, the May Lord, comprehends her. In the moment that the 2 began to really love, they notice something “unsubstantial in their former satisfaction”. The love in between them made them based on earth’s “doom of care and grief”. Edith contemplates death even in this most joyous occasion.
At that moment, the Puritans attack the gathering. The Puritan leader, Endicott, cuts down the Maypole. He starts to sentence the captive Merry Mount inhabitants to whippings and other penalties. He orders the dancing bear shot due to the fact that he senses witchcraft. Relying on the Lord and Lady of the May, he senses in the pair a “younger charm” that appeared “pure and high”. The Might Lord asks Endicott to let his wife go untouched, while the May Girl sobs, “be it death, and lay all of it on me!” Endicott is touched by the expression of love from the couple, which he recognizes as unique for inhabitants of Merry Mount. He decides that the two have hope for reform, and throws a wreath over their heads. The couple follows the Puritans, without squandering “one regretful idea on the vanities of Merry Mount.”
At the end of the story, Hawthorne notes that the account is based in some historical truth. Merry Mount did exist at one point in history, and was led by a male called Thomas Morton who was persecuted by the Puritans. The story, therefore, exhibits the tension in between the Puritans, who mean facility, solemnity, and order, and the Merrymakers, who tend towards free thinking.
The specific story of the couple, however, might be more symbolic than historical. The relationship between the Edith and Edgar demonstrates the power of real love in the face of 2 extremes – the pleasure-seeking Merrymakers and the grim Puritans.
While Hawthorne refrains from siding with either the Puritans or the Merrymakers, the tone of the story does indicate that the Merrymakers are, in a manner, devoid of true feeling. Even if they comprehend that their mirth is not genuine happiness, they still pick it over Thought and Knowledge. They do not comprehend what Edgar and Edith pertain to recognize– that genuine joy depends on contrast between the trials and grief in life and the empathy that people may feel for one another. The cooling tip of death that triggers Edith pause in her marital happiness – which foreshadows the ensuing raid by the Puritans – boosts her bond with Edgar. They share a sensation of melancholy though it is forbidden by their pagan brethren. However this sensation, like the adversity that occurs from Endicott’s arrival, deepens their love rather than tear it apart.
On the other hand, the Puritans seem to be extreme and severe in their dealings with a hedonistic but physically safe group of individuals. Their ruthless reducing of the maypole, the shooting of the dancing bear and the trimming of Edgar’s hair are broad examples of the rigidness Hawthorne proscribes to their religion. Nevertheless, Hawthorne paints their leader, Endicott, with a dash of human kindness. Softened by the love of the couple, Endicott spares them and invites them into his fold. The Puritans can be seen as extreme, however can likewise be moved by empathy.
An alternate reading, however, might be that Endicott is not softened at all– however rather only accepts the couple after sensing in them a desire and potential to transform. For that reason, his response to their love is neither compassion nor acceptance, but rather a practical action that serves to show his rigid desire to purify young minds and get rid of the unclean.