The Loss of Innocence in Nathanial Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”
What can be said of those who stray from the path of righteousness, those who come to a crossroad in their faith where the conflict to neglect what we know to be good (innocence) for the pleasures of human nature (evil) are at constant odds? In the story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne we explore Just that.
Young Goodman Brown is descried as a puritan (Hawthorne 319), whom is newly married, and getting ready to set out on a journey of evil. Unaware and fearful that something will happen, his young wife faith who wears pink ribbons in her hair implores him to stay. “Prithee, put off your journey till sunrise…a lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afraid of herself, sometimes” (Hawthorne 317) explaining that his journey has to be completed “tonight of all nights in the year” they parted ways ” The young man pursed his way…he looked back and saw the head of faith still peeping at him what a wretch am I, to leave her for such an errand….poor little Faith thought he “She’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven”. (Hawthorne 317)
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This part of the story is significant to the theme of the loss of innocence and the internal conflict between good and evil because the exchange between young Goodman brown and his wife faith is symbolic of him turning his back on his religious beliefs for his own sinful pleasures. Faith his wife is allusive of his faith in God he’s rationalizing his sin by saying he wont do it anymore and “follow her to heaven” after he’s finished doing the evil he seeks on his journey. The pink ribbons are also symbolic of innocence and purity. Goodman Brown knows his faith will always be there when he decides he wants to return to it. The sentence where Goodman Brown says “poor little faith” is also a play on a verse out of the bible “oh ye of little faith” often to used to describe Christians who doubt God which young Goodman brown will eventually do.
Goodman brown continues his journey, into the forest where he encounters the traveler with the staff that looks like a snake. They walk through the forest together; the traveler complains that Goodman browns “”pace is dull for the beginning of a journey”” to which Goodman brown stops and says “”Friend. 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 “Sayest thou so”” replied he of serpent “”let us walk on nevertheless, reasoning as we go, if I convince thee not, thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way into the forest, yet.” (Hawthorne 318)
This scene is notable because it showcases how hard it becomes to deny temptation once you indulge in it. And how when morality kicks in that one may be too deeply entrenched in their sins (the forest) to turn back. This scene also shows that some will reason with what they know to be bad or wrong (sinful, immoral) so they can continue to do it.
Goodman brown speaks about his family and how they were “”good Christians”” who did “”good works”” and didn’t keep “”company”” of those as the traveler. The traveler speaks of how he is “”well acquainted”” with Goodman browns family and all the puritans. The traveler goes on to illustrate how he assisted Goodman Browns family in many horrendous crimes “”I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I who brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war”” “”They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path””.
Astonished and uncertain if what the traveler is saying is true the pair continue. they then come upon Goody Cloyse. whom Brown reverse as a “”pious and exemplary dame who taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his spiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin”” (Hawthorne 319). Not wanting to be seen with the traveler brown goes into the woods and watches the old man as he continues on the path. The traveler and Goody Cloyse converse with one another. Goody close is on her way to a meeting in the forest, she revels herself as a witch to the traveler, whom she confirms is “”the devil””. wrought with disbelief Brown comes from the woods and they continue on their journey the traveler makes a new walking stick from a maple branch as they go. suddenly “”Goodman brown sits down on the stump of a tree and refuses to go any further””.
Having made up his mind “”not another step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman does choose to go to the devil, when I thought she was going to Heaven! Is that any reason why I should quit my dear faith and go after her?””. (Hawthorne 321)
Goodman Brown must choose to continue his journey or turn back. He believes that his family is righteous and insists that he and his family have always been good Christian men, and the mere thought of him being the first sinner in his family troubled him. This is important because it means that Goodman brown doesn’t measure his goodness against the sense of what is right and wrong, but, rather the goodness of the people around him.
Goodman Browns morals are vain, held up by what people think about him than what’s within. Its why he hid in the forest when he saw Goody Cloyse, he wants to appear as good without actually being upright and dedicated. Goodman Brown’s learning that all the people he revered as holy are actually sinners like his family and Goody Cloyse. starts to make him lose faith in humanity but because of his wife Faith, whom he believes to be a saint and innocent he won’t be swayed.
“”You will think better of this by and by”” said his acquaintance, composedly. “”Sit here and rest yourself awhile; and when you feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along.”” (Hawthorne 321) Goodman brown sits, proud of himself for resisting the devil and not continuing the journey. Relived he won’t have to face the saints with a guilty conscience. As he rests “”Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the vege of the forest””. (Hawthorne 321) Although it’s too dark to see the riders Goodman Brown recognizes their voices as those of Deacon Gookin and the Minister. Deacon Gookin conveys his excitement for the meeting tonight. “”The voices, talking so strangely in the empty air, passed on through the forest, where no church had ever been gathered, nor solitary Christian prayed””. (Hawthorne 321). “”Whither then, could these holy men be journeying, so deep into the heathen wilderness? Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree, for support…faint and over-burdened with the heavy sickness of his heart””. “”…Doubting whether there really is a heaven above him. Yet there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening it. With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!””
Goodman Brown is in disbelief that holy men such as the deacon and the minister are in the forest as the forest represents sin. Seeing the minister and deacon also furthers Goodman browns distrust in his community. If the very people he looked to in the community for spiritual guidance are so easily corrupted with sin, what hope does he then have? even still clinging to the thought of his wife faith being his saving grace from sin Goodman Brown is slowly succumbing to evil.
While Goodman brown looked to the sky in prayer there came a dark could that hid the stars. and from that cloud Goodman Brown heard the familiar voices of towns people “”both pious and ungodly”. (Hawthorne 322) Goodman Brown also heard the sorrowful pleas of his wife Faith. “”And all the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners seemed to encourage her onward. Faith! shouted Goodman brown…as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it and beheld a pink ribbon””. “”My faith is gone! cried he”” “”There is no good on earth and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given””
Goodman brown has lost his faith, not only in his religious aspect but also in his wife. Overwhelmed by the fact that people he thought to be pillars of righteousness fall to the temptation of the evil forest and doubting the goodness around him one of faith ribbons falls from the sky symbolizing that she has fallen prey to evil, making Goodman brown lose his faith in her but also the world as faith his wife was his last hope of there being good.
Goodman Brown has chosen to follow the devil he takes up the staff and rushes onward unfazed by the frightful sounds of the forest. Devilish, stripped of his faith, and more frightful than anything in the haunted forest he sees a fire and hears the tune of a familiar hymn. In the light of the fire Goodman brown sees faces of people whom he believed to be pious, like the deacon and minister. he doesn’t see Faith and it makes him hopeful. The congregation continues to sing their hymn and the flames of the trees grew taller, then appears a figure. “” Bring forth the converts! cried a voice”” (Hawthorne 324). Goodman Brown stepped forward “”Approaching the congregation, with whom he felt loathful brotherhood. by sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart.”” (Hawthorne 324) Once on the alter they bring out Faith, who’s face is covered by a veil. The figure speaks of the sins of the congregation and how “”Evil is the nature of mankind”” ready to baptize the pair into wickedness Goodman brown tells faith “”look up to heaven and resist the wicked one”” (Hawthorne 325) Goodman Brown then wakes up in the woods.
Feeling tied to the congregation due to his “”wicked heart”” and void of innocence and faith Goodman Brown steps forward ready to forsake all else and completely give in to his sinful nature. Goodman brown is unable to resist the devil on his own. When they unveil his wife, he then finds the strength within himself to tell her to “”resist the evil one””. Upon doing so Goodman brown awakens in the woods. The next morning, he goes back to the village suspicious of those he seen in his dream including his wife Faith. Goodman Brown attempted to live his life as usual by continuing to go to church and listening to the minister, but because of what he had witnessed in the forest he became as miserable man who eventually died a gloomy death.
Goodman Brown straying from the path of righteousness for the pleasures of sin cost him his faith and innocence. Seeing the corruptibility of the people whom he esteemed as pillars of holy light at the meeting in the forest caused him to view everything as evil. His diminished faith cost him his happiness and peace.