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Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story about
revealing true evil and the loss of one man's faith. Nathaniel Hawthorne left
"Young Goodman Brown" up for many interpretations. After reading the
story a couple of times, one thing became clear to me. What I absorbed from this
story was that evil exists in everyone, does not matter how good we may think we
are. Things aren't always what they seem. I say this because the people who
attended the devil's meetings, were the ones who attended church with him. The
people whom he though were holy and Christian. These people were not holy at
all. They were worshipping, praying, and obeying the devil. As Goodman Brown
started his journey into the forest, he met an older man. The old man, "was
about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and
bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression
than features" (DiYanni, 273). In Brown's ignorance, he does not realize
that the one he is with is in fact the devil. This is shown when Brown asks a
question in fear before meeting the old man, "There may be a devilish
Indian behind every tree," said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced
fearfully behind him, as he added, "What if the devil himself should be at
my very elbow!" (DiYanni, 273). This to me is ironic because then,
"His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and looking
forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at
the foot of an old tree. He arose at Goodman Brown's approach, and walked
onward, side by side with him"(DiYassi, 273). Here Goodman Brown does not
realize that the devil is, in fact, walking "side by side with
him"(DiYassi,273). "Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and
exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his
moral and spiritual advisor" (DiYassi, 275). This dames name was Goody
Cloyse. When Brown sees that Goody Cloyse recognizes the old man and cries out,
"the devil" (DiYassi, 275), he can't believe it. He now sees her as a
"wretched old woman" (DiYassi, 276). Brown is feeling his loss of
faith and tries to overcome this by saying, "What if a wretched old woman
does choose to go to the devil, when I though she was going to heaven! Is that
any reason to leave my dear Faith behind, and go after her?" (DiYassi,
276). Though Brown is disappointed, he has not yet lost his faith. Goodman Brown
finds his faith disrupted, once again, when he observes the minister and deacon
secretly from behind a tree. These two "holy men" (DiYanni, 276) are
the two people that Brown admires; they are the spiritual leaders of the
community. As Goodman Brown listens to their discussing the unholy meeting Brown
becomes "faint and over-burthened with the heavy sickness of his
heart" (DiYanni, 276). At this point he was in doubt of his faith, but in a
struggle to keep his faith he says, "With heaven above, and Faith below, I
will yet stand firm against the devil!" (DiYanni, 277). "Faith",
Goodman Brown's wife, is his faith in God. Brown loses all faith in God, but he
believes that he is better than everyone else. Showing his pride and ignorance.
This was Goodman Brown's downfall. Critics tend to focus on different scenes
from stories. This critic, Bert A.Mikosh, focuses on his view of "Young
Goodman Brown". "The story "Young Goodman Brown" is about a
man and his faith in himself, his wife, and the community they reside in.
Goodman Brown must venture on a journey into the local forest refuse the
temptation of the devil and return to the village before sunrise. The time era
is approximately a generation after the time of the witch trials" (Mikosh).
He leads on by saying, "The lead character is happy with the locals and his
faith until this trip, when he is convinced they are all evil. Upon this
discovery he, in a sense, becomes evil" (Mikosh). Bert continues in
writing, "When Goodman comes back he thinks he is better than the rest and
judges everyone instantly. He then comes to the conclusion that he is the only
person that is not a devil worshiper. Just as before with the witch trials, he
is judging then as the so-called witches were judged by his ancestors. A
reference to Martha Carrier is made in the story, Goodman's predicament is
similar to his. She was isolated from the community because of her beliefs just
like Goodman. The difference is that Martha's community isolated her, and
Goodman felt isolated or isolated himself" (Mikosh). This was a very
interesting point. Bert ends by stating this, "The views and beliefs of
people of that era were if anything to an extreme. Whatever they believed they
worshipped with a vengeance. This extreme faith can be compared to the current
time "Career Goal." If the people today can not pursue a career and
succeed, the feel as if their life has no meaning" (Mikosh). I don't agree
100% but I understand what he is trying to say. "This most likely has its
roots from the Protestant work ethic. The ethic, in general, says that you must
work hard to please God and complete for a place in heaven. This story is about
such people. The modern day person has taken this work ethic and given it a
greedy twist. People of today fight for position, status or power just as much
as the pioneer puritans worshiped and studied the bible. The puritans would take
the word of the bible as the word, without interpretation, only translation by
the minister of the ommunity. Although these career driven people do not have a
book to guide their path, they pursue it none the less. Some of these people
have lost, or never had the belief, of reaching heaven, or even its existence.
These people are the peers of the believers and set the rules or guidelines for
career goals. So in effect the status in the community is a way of saying they
are better. The people who do not believe in any god-like being fight in an
effort to make their mark on the world, for this is the only was they can be
recognized or remembered" (Mikosh). This is his view of "Young Goodman
Brown". Another critic is Joan Elizabeth Easterley who focuses on the
lachrymalimagery in Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown". "Literary
critics have interpreted the significance of Goodman Brown's experience in many
fashions--allegorical, moral, philosophical, and psychological. However there is
an intriguing absence of any reference to the last line of the Sabbath scene to
explain Hawthorne's characterization of the young Puritan, despite the fact that
Hawthorne signals the importance of the cold drops of dew in a periodic
sentence. In essence, Hawthorne here carefully delineates the image of a young
man who has faced and failed a critical test of moral and spiritual
maturity" (Easterley). "Young Goodman Brown is reproached by his
creator because he shows no compassion for the weaknesses he sees in others, no
remorse for his own sin, and no sorrow for his loss of faith. The one action
that would demonstrate such deep and redemptive human feelings does not take
place. Goodman Brown does not weep. Therefore, Hawthorne quietly and gently
sprinkles "the coldest dew" on his cheek to represent the absence of
tears" (Easterley). "The lack of tears, the outward sign of an inward
reality, posits the absence of the innate love and humility that would have made
possible Brown's moral and spiritual progression. A meticulous artist and a
master of symbolism, Hawthorne uses the twig and the dewdrops deliberately.
Drops of water on a man's cheek suggest tears" (Easterley). "On a
moral level, Brown's acceptance of others as they are--imperfect and subject to
temptation--would have made a mature adulthood and productive and healthy
relationships with others possible. But his lack of remorse and compassion, as
symbolized by the absence of tears, condemns him to an anguished life that is
spiritually and emotionally desiccated. The drops that Hawthorne places on
Brown's cheek are of "the coldest dew," devastating in their
connotation, for they represent the coldness of a soul that is dying, in
contrast to the regenerative warmth of true tears and love" (Easterley).
"Human tears are an emotional response, and Hawthorne's allusion to the
lack of tears underscores Brown's emotional barrenness. Critical analyses have
hitherto focused primarily on Brown's faulty or immature moral reasoning,
arguing that the puritan fails the test of the Sabbath because he fails to
reason on a mature moral level, either because of the legalism of Puritan
doctrine or because of his refusal to admit his own sinfulness (Frank 209,
Folsom 32, Fogle23, Stubbs 73) (Easterley). Joan Elizabeth Easterley has opened
my eyes. It is interesting to see different views on one story. To wrap up her
essay, she ends it by saying, "Nathaniel Hawthorne, the master of symbolism
and suggestion, softly sprinkles cold tears on the cheek of young Goodman Brown.
This lachrymal image, so delicately wrought, is the key to interpreting the
young Puritan's failure to achieve moral and spiritual maturity. Brown cannot
reconcile the conflict caused by his legalistic evaluation of others, nor can he
transcend this moral dilemma by showing compassion and remorse. In final irony,
Hawthorne tells us that the man who sheds no tears lives the rest of his life a
"sad" man, whose "dying hour was gloom" (Hawthorne, 90)(Easterley).
"Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, the
descendent of a long line of Puritan ancestors. After his father was lost at sea
when he was only four, his mother became overly protected and pushed him toward
more isolated pursuits. Hawthorne's childhood left him overly shy and bookish,
and molded his life as a writer. Hawthorne turned to writing after his
graduation from Bowdoin College" (Classic Notes by Gradesaver). "In
June, 1849, Hawthorne was discharged from his three year long job with Salem
Custom House. He was forty five years old, and although starting to gain a
reputation as a writer, remained unable to support himself from writing alone.
To make the tragedy even worse, only a few weeks later his mother passed away.
Hawthorne fell ill as a result of the difficulties he was facing" (Classic
Notes by Gradesaver). "Upon his recovery late in the summer, Hawthorne sat
down to write The Scarlet Letter. He zealously worked on the novel with
determination he had not known before. His intense suffering infused the novel
with imaginative energy, leading him to describe it as the "hell-fired
story." On February 3. 1850, Hawthorne read the final pages to his wife. He
wrote, "It broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache,
which i took upon as a triumphant success" (Classic Notes by Gradesaver).
"Hawthorne was deeply devoted to his wife, Sophia Peabody, and his two
children. Hawthorne, though, had little engagement with any sort of social life.
Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Emerson
described his life with the words "painful solitude." Hawthorne's
classic remains one of the most cleanly composed works of American fiction"
(Classic Notes by Gradesaver).

Bibliography
Fogle, Richard Harter. "Hawthorne's Fiction: The Light and the Dark.
Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1964. Folsom, james K. Man's Accidents and God's
Purpose: Multiplicity in Hawthorne's Fiction. New Haven: College & UP, 1963.
Frank, Neal. Hawthorne's Early Tales: A Critical Study. Durham: Duke UP, 1972.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." Moses from an Old Manse.
Ohio State UP, 1974. 74-90. Stubbs, Joan Caldwell. The Pusuit of Form: A Study
of Hawthorne and the Romance. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1970. Easterley, Joan
Elizabeth. Lachrymal imagery of Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown."
Studies in Short Fiction, Summer91, Vol. 28 Issue 3, p339, 5p. (Located in
EBSCOhost). Mikosh, Bert A. A view of "Young Goodman Brown." URL:http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/goodman/ygmikosh.
html (11/26/99). Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown."
Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and the Essays. 4th ed. DiYanni,
Robert, ed. Ny: The McGraw Hill Companies, 1998. Nathanliel Hawthorne: Classic
Notes by GradeSaver. URL:http://www. gradesaver.com/ClassicNotes/Authors/hawthorne.html
(12/14/99).
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