Assignment: “Young Goodman Brown”
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story titled “Young Goodman Brown,” the author uses mystery and suspense to capture the reader’s attention. “Young Goodman Brown” is simply a story of a man losing his faith, and uses literary devices to lead the reader into asking the question, “what does all the mysticism?” In “Young Goodman Brown,” the reader needs to recognize there are many forms of symbolism the author uses, for understanding the point and meaning of the story. Hawthorne illustrates that a strong faith is the greatest quality of a person, and when that faith is lost, the effects can cause a person to be filled with doubt and cynicism towards the rest of the world. Over the years, there have been critics of Hawthorne and this story, along with many interpretations of the story’s meanings. Anne C. Little authored a book titled Short Fiction: A Critical Companion, which is an analysis of these criticisms. Some criticisms do not view “Young Goodman Brown” as a simple story of a man losing his faith.
Hawthorne uses Goodman Brown’s travels through the forest and the black mass as a representation for all the evil and sin within the world. Goodman Brown still has faith in his own moral beliefs, but he has lost his faith in the rest of the world to hold any moral beliefs. Goodman Brown’s own lack of faith in the world has caused him to be unforgiving of people. He believes only evil will result from evil and there is nothing that can be done to change it. Instead of seeing the good in people, their actions and forgiving their sins, Goodman Brown only looks condescending of people and views them as hypocrites. By the end of the story, it is Goodman Brown, who becomes the hypocrite, because of passing judgment on those who have sinned and during the course of this, he does not take his own sins into consideration. “You have heard though it was said, “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy” “but I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust“ (Mat. 5. 43-45)”. Hawthorne is making an argument in the story that all people are sinners, and we must not hate people for their sins but hate the sins and love the sinners. Goodman Brown’s loss of faith caused him to be blinded from seeing this point of view.
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Hawthorne describes Goodman Brown, as having strong faith prior to entering the forest and his travels to the black mass. Hawthorne uses Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, as a symbol of Goodman Brown’s personal faith within the story. For example, the initial description of Faith: “And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap” (Hawthorne,1842, par.1). Hawthorne is describing her as pure and innocent, to symbolize Goodman Brown’s own faith. Also, some replies of Goodman Brown to Faith, suggest that his faith cannot be weakened: “Amen! Cried Goodman Brown. Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee” (par.5). Goodman Brown began his travel with a strong will and an “excellent resolve for the future” (par.8), and he “felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose” (par.8). Although Goodman Brown knew his knowledge quest was a sinful act, he believed his faith will return him home safely. Goodman Brown displays he is secure in his faith while he travels through the forest when a dark figure urges Goodman Brown to go with him. Goodman Brown responds, “having kept my covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples, touching the matter thou wot’st of” (par.15). Goodman Brown’s “purpose” and “scruples” are symbolic of his good faith. After the dark figure tells Goodman Brown about the evil acts that he (Brown) has committed, Goodman Brown responds, “there is my wife, Faith. It would break her dear little heart: and I’d rather break my own” (par.24). Hawthorne uses the name Faith to symbolize Goodman Brown’s faith, and illustrates to the reader that Goodman Brown would rather die before giving up his faith.
The characters Goodman Brown observed on his travel through the forest as well as his experience at the black Sabbath, are what caused his loss of faith. When Goodman Brown was approached by the dark figure in the forest and told he was late, Goodman Brown responds, “Faith kept me back awhile” (par.12). The name of his wife is symbolizing Goodman Brown’s own faith and is illustrating he had compromised it when he entered into the forest. Goodman Brown recognizes many people traveling toward the meeting place, and is surprised how many of them are people in religious and governmental positions. Hawthorne illustrates that all people are sinners no matter how they may portray themselves or what position they hold in society. For example, Goodman Brown sees Goody Cloyse, who is described as “a very pious and exemplary dame” (par.26). Goodman Brown was in disbelieve that Goody Cloyse would be out in the dark forest because she had taught him his catechism. This illustrates to the reader that Goodman Brown’s faith is beginning to weaken. This is reinforced when he sees the town minister and Deacon Gookin, he “caught hold of a tree, for support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and over-burthened with the sickness of his heart” (par.45). When he finds the pink ribbon of his wife in the forest, Goodman Brown says: “My Faith is gone!” Cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come devil! For to thee is this world given” (par.50). At the black mass, Goodman Brown is surprised at the number of people he recognizes. People he knew as God-fearing church members and respected members of the community, are actually sinners. He describes them as “A grave and dark-clad company” (par.55). He asks himself, “But where is Faith” (par.57). This illustrates to the reader, Goodman Brown believes there is no longer any good in people and only evil remaining, and his faith is almost completely destroyed.
Once Goodman Brown returned from the forest, he sees everything in his life as evil, sinful, and hypocritical. He views, Goody Cloyse teaching of catechism, Faith’s expressions of love toward him, and everything else he held in high esteem in his life to be pointless. Goodman Brown display’s some faith by attending church services, but he only feels misery from the congregation’s sinfulness and hypocrisy: “On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen, because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear, and drowned all the blessed strain” (par.72). When the story says that Goodman Brown, “Often, awaking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith” (par.72). This illustrates that Goodman Brown still has some faith but his knowledge of the evil in the world causes him to not to interact with the rest of the society. He lives a long life with Faith but never loses his dislike for society and the evil within the world, “for his dying hour was gloom” (par.72).
Anna C. Little authored a book titled, Short Fiction: A Critical Companion, in 1997, that analyzes several short stories to include “Young Goodman Brown”. According to Little, there are several interpretations of “Young Goodman Brown” such as: “In “Young Goodman Brown” the historical context can explain Brown’s loss of faith that at first seems all too sudden, and this can in turn lead to an understanding of what Hawthorne was saying about the Puritan community” (Little, p83). It also presents an analysis of the story from a psychosexual viewpoint such as: “Freudians explore the “sexual overtones” of Brown’s experience and sees Brown as failing to deal with Faith’s sexuality or having a “mother fixation” (Little, p89). The author structures the analysis of “Young Goodman Brown” in a research journey format, to present the various viewpoints, meanings and interpretations of the story.
Over the years, a trend in interpretations of “Young Goodman Brown” focused away from literary devises, and focused on its psychosexual elements, describing Brown as a psychoanalysis figure and Faith as vague representative womanhood. For example, “The night Young Goodman Brown spends in the forest introduces him to “the ambiguity of good and evil” embodied in his wife Faith, “both pure and poisonous, saint and sinner”. The scene he encounters “is essentially sexual,” as is emphasized by “images of penetration,” and he “qualifies” for the ceremony because of his marriage” (p86-87).
In more current times, critics have studied Hawthorne’s use of historical materials and events. Scholars examined Hawthorne’s knowledge of and access to late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Puritan documents about theology, political history, and witchcraft. The most recent criticism of “Young Goodman Brown” is that Hawthorne made use of details of the Puritan experience and incorporated nineteenth-century views of gender relations as a way to examine his own culture’s anxieties over theological, sexual, and moral issues. For example, “The Puritan need to judge the sanctification of others led quite easily to its perversion in hunting for witches, and Brown’s rapid descent—”from believing in those who have believed in him to doubting all virtue but his own”— seems to be Hawthorne’s way of showing “this definitive Puritan dilemma” (p 84).
I agree with Little in the area of Hawthorne’s use of literary devices and creativity of “Young Goodman Brown”. For example, “Young Goodman Brown” is an allegory of “Everyman’s crisis of faith” in a Calvinist context” (p85). I disagree with the psychological interpretations of the story and of Hawthorne himself. The story is a fictional story that was designed to entertain and convene a lesson. The psychological interpretations are being concluded from non-factual events in a made-up story, based on events that never happened. This is not to mention, the fact Hawthorne was never psychologically examined or tested to formulate any of these conclusions. These interpretations of the story have no scientific base or facts render the conclusions that are presented.
Regardless of these conflicting interpretations, scholars do agree that “Young Goodman Brown” represents a significant achievement in Hawthorne’s career and in the creation of the American short story. With few exceptions, critics have commended Hawthorne’s expertise in using historical sources for their symbolic, imagery, and mythical applications. Critics continue to study “Young Goodman Brown” for its originality, its narrative structure, and its authentic exploration of humanity’s moral condition.
Indeed, while years of psychological research may provide an educated guess for an interpretation of any story, “Young Goodman Brown” is simply a story of a man losing his faith. Hawthorne’s work continues to be studied to this day for its symbolism, imagery and allegory. The tone Hawthorne uses within “Young Goodman Brown”, is precise and acute. He references Puritan belief’s and their innocence’s with a poetic flare of mystery. This in turn, leads into a young Puritan man entering into packet with the devil and struggles of good and evil. His illusions of the goodness of his society are destroyed when he discovers that many of the people within his town, including religious leaders, and his wife are attending a black mass. This ultimately leads “Young Goodman Brown” to his own demise and solitude. This reveals a skillful use of romanticism to demonstrate the Puritan obsession with good and evil.
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Andromeda. Literary Resource on the Net, January 7, 2006. Retrieved from andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts /younggoodmanbrown.html
- Little, Anne C. “Young Goodman Brown.” Short Fiction: A Critical Companion, Jan. 1997, pp. 83-91. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ifh&AN+2457649