Summary of “The Golden Touch” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Golden Touch Nathaniel Hawthorne Summary
“The Golden Touch” Summary

“The Golden Touch” is a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that appeared in his 1851 collection A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys, which is made up of retellings of Greek myths. It’s the very popular and enduring story of King Midas and his golden touch, and the powerful lesson he learns. It’s a great story, even if you know it already. Reading it through to write this summary, I was surprised how engaging it was. I hope you enjoy this summary of “The Golden Touch”.

“The Golden Touch” Summary

Once upon a time lived King Midas and his little daughter Marygold. King Midas loves gold more than anything; the only thing that comes close is Marygold. He thinks the best way to show his love is to pile up gold for her eventual inheritance.

Midas used to love flowers and music but doesn’t pay them any attention now. He only likes touching things that are gold. Every day he spends a long time in his palace basement where he stores his gold. He locks the door and holds his golden cups, coins, bars and dust. He appreciates a single beam of sunlight that enters through the dungeon-like window because it makes his gold shine.

One day while enjoying his gold in his treasure room, a young smiling man appears in the sunbeam. His presence makes all the gold shine. Midas knows the visitor isn’t from this world because the door was locked. It’s likely the stranger is here to do him some favor.

He notes the King’s great wealth and is surprised to hear he’s not satisfied. He asks what would satisfy him. Suspecting that the stranger has the power and desire to grant his wish, Midas thinks carefully on his answer. He asks that everything he touches turn into gold.

The young stranger compliments Midas on his brilliant idea, and confirms that this would satisfy him. The stranger agrees to grant his request. Tomorrow morning at sunrise, Midas will have the Golden Touch. The man’s figure gets exceedingly bright and he disappears.

Very early in the morning, Midas wakes and touches a chair but nothing happens. Disappointed, he lies in bed feeling sad. When a sunbeam comes through the window, Midas finds his bed spread has become golden. He jumps out of bed with joy and touches things in his room, each one turning to gold. His clothes turn to gold as well, but stay flexible.

The handkerchief that Marygold sewed for him changes, which disappoints him a little. He’d rather that had stayed the same. He puts on his glasses and realizes they’re useless now as the lenses turn to gold. Marygold will soon be old enough to read to him, and small inconveniences are to be expected.

Midas goes downstairs, turning the palace gold as he touches it. In the garden, the beautiful roses are in full bloom. He touches each flower and transforms them and then goes inside for breakfast.

Midas sits at the table full of delicious food, waiting for Marygold to join him. As she approaches, he hears her crying, which is unusual for her. Midas turns her china bowl gold as a surprise. She comes in holding a golden rose, which has lost its smell and color and is ruined.

Midas doesn’t admit he’s the cause of her distress. She sits to eat and doesn’t even notice the change in her bowl. When the coffee touches the King’s lips it turns to molten gold and quickly hardens. He tries various foods and they all transform. He’d rather have his breakfast than more gold. He looks with envy at Marygold as she enjoys her breakfast.

Quickly tossing a hot potato into his mouth, Midas burns himself on the hot metal and jumps around the room in pain, which makes Marygold concerned. Midas has the richest breakfast imaginable but can’t eat any of it. He wonders how long he can go without eating, but remains convinced his Golden Touch is worth it.

Seeing her father’s discomfort, Marygold rushes to comfort him and he kisses her head. His little daughter turns into a golden statue. Midas is agonized looking at her golden features. He used to say she was worth her weight in gold, but now realizes she’s far more valuable than that. He despairs over his lost daughter, and wishes he was the poorest man in the world if it would bring her back.

The young stranger who gave him the Golden Touch is standing by the door. Midas turns his head away from him. The stranger sees all the gold, including the little girl, and asks Midas about his gift. Midas admits that he’s miserable. Gold isn’t everything, and he’s lost everything important to him.

The stranger asks how the Golden Touch compares to a glass of water, a crust of bread, or his daughter. He acknowledges their all preferable to it, especially Marygold. The stranger is pleased Midas has learned this lesson and offers him a way out. He must plunge into the river in his garden. He can fill a vase with its water and sprinkle it on anything he wants to change back.

Midas bows and the stranger vanishes. He grabs an earthen pitcher, which immediately becomes gold, and runs to the river, turning the foliage yellow as he pushes through it. He jumps into the water. When he dips the pitcher it becomes earthen again. He’s relieved and also feels a change in himself.

Midas touches a flower on the bank and it stays the same. He hurries into the palace and sprinkles the water over Marygold. Her rosy color returns and she sputters from the dripping water.

Marygold has no awareness of what happened to her. Midas doesn’t tell her how foolish he was but, instead, shows her he’s wiser now. He takes her to the garden and sprinkles the water over the roses.

For the rest of his life, two things remind Midas of his Golden Touch—the sand at the river sparkles like gold, and Marygold’s hair, which has taken on a golden tinge.

When Midas is an old man, he tells Marygold’s children the story that you have just heard. He tells them they inherited their golden hair from their mother. Since that morning long ago, it’s the only kind of gold he likes to see.

I hope this summary of “The Golden Touch” by Nathaniel Hawthorne was helpful.