Essay, Research Paper: Young Goodman Brown Symbolism

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne is a nineteenth-century American writer of the Romantic
Movement. Hawthorne was born is Salem, Massachusetts, and this is the place he
used as the setting for some of his works: such as “The Scarlett Letter”,
“the Blithedale Romance” and “Young Goodman Brown”. In writing,
Hawthorne was known for his use of allegory and symbolism, which made his
stories a joy for everyone to read. Hawthorne was said to be the first American
writer who was conscious of the failure of modern man to realize his full
capacity for moral growth. His stories contain much about the life he knew as a
child being brought up in a Puritan society. As Hawthorne’s writing continued
it was filled with the same amount of sin and evil as his first writings. Evil
that was revealed through his works. “Young Goodman Brown” was said to be
one of the best stories ever written by Hawthorne (Adams70). “The Marble Faun:
and “the Scarlett Letter were some of the other stories written by Hawthorne,
and they were said to be “Young Goodman Brown” grown older. In this
selection there is a question of maturity for Goodman Brown and whether he is
good or evil. There is also a transition from childishness to adolescence to
maturity. This short story in particular has a feeling of adultery, betrayal,
and deception as in some of his other works. It was said by Richard P. Adams
that “young Goodman Brown” was a germ for nearly all his best work that
followed (Adams 71). The use of symbolism in “young Goodman Brown” shows
that evil is everywhere, which becomes evident in the conclusion of this short
story. Hawthorne’s works are filled with symbolic elements and allegorical
elements. “Young Goodman Brown” deals mostly with conventional allegorical
elements, such as Young Goodman Brown and Faith. In writing his short stories or
novels he based their depiction of sin on the fact that he feels like his father
and grandfather committed great sins. There are two main characters in this
short story, Faith and Young Goodman Brown. “Young Goodman Brown is everyman
seventeenth-century New England the title as usual giving the clue. He is the
son of the Old Adam, and recently wedded to Faith. We must note that every word
is significant in the opening sentence: “Young Goodman Brown came forth at
sunset into the street of Sale, Village; but put his head back, after crossing
the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young w2ife. ‘She begs him
to ‘put off his journey until sunrise,’ but he declares he cannot…. [It]
should not escape us that she tries to stop him because she is a similar
compulsion to go on a journey’ herself-‘She talks dreams, too, ‘Young
Goodman Brown reflects as he leaves her. The journey each must take alone, in
dread, at night, is the journey away form home and the community from conscious,
everyday social life, to the wilderness where the hidden self satisfies or
forces us to realize its subconscious fears and prompting in sleep. We take that
journey with him into the awful forest. Noting the difference between the town
and the forest. We see Hawthorne using the Puritan association of trees and
animals. When Young Goodman associates returns to Salem Village, his eyes are
opened to the true nature of his fellowmen, that is human nature; he inescapably
knows that what he suspected of himself is true of all men… Hawthorne has made
a dramatic poem of the Calvinist experience in New England. The unfailing tact
with which the experience is evoked subjectively in the more impressive concrete
terms, is a subordinate proof of genius. I should prefer to stress the wonderful
I control of local and total rhythm, which never falters of stackers, and rises
from the quest but impressive opening to its poetic climax in the superb and
moving finale. Hawthorne has imaginatively recreated for the reader that
Calvinist sense of sin, that theory did in actuality shape the early social and
spiritual history of New England. But in Hawthorne by a wonderful feat of
translation, it has no religious significance; it is as a psychological state
that it explored. Young Goodman Brown’s faith in human beings, and losing it
he is doomed to isolation forever (Peabody 331).” Young Goodman Brown is the
main character and the protagonist, and Faith Brown, his wife is said to be one
of the antagonists in this selection. Young Goodman Brown is a husband of three
months and is still said to be immature. Brown symbolizes immaturity, goodness,
and everyman. He is a very religious person, happy in his marriage, trustworthy
and naïve. “Young Goodman Brown is stern, sad, darkly meditative, distrustful
if not a desperate man (Adams 72).” Brown is said to be naïve because he goes
into this evil forest even though his wife warned him of the danger that he was
about to encounter. Brown, actually is every man, whether young or old our
parents in some way try to protect us form danger and that’s just what his
mother’s ghost was trying to do, but as we all know our fathers pushes us on
even if we are going to make a mistake and that’s just what his father’s
ghost did. This forest represents evil and destruction. There is always an
association between forests and evil because of its dark and gloomy nature. That
is why the witch meetings were held in the midst of it. Faith was another
character in the story; she was the wife of Young Goodman Brown. This young
woman is filled with sin yet she is said to be Godly. Because Faith was so
honest and Godly, Young Goodman Brown put all of his faith in her, which made
heroin of his worst enemies. Faith is said to be a good wife pure and poisonous,
a saint and sinner and a pretty pink ribbon-wearing woman. Hoffman writes that
Faith is the forest. They both are considered to be evil (Levy 121). Faith’s
ribbon is a description of her personality or her inner-self. The pink ribbon
that Faith wears is a symbol of sin and purities. Faith’s ribbon is found in
the evil forest and that’s when Faith is really seen as an unclear person.
Faith is also said to have committed adultery not only against Young Goodman
Brown but also against God because she gave in to the likes of the devil. The
ribbons provide a continuity between faith as an ideal of religious fidelity and
as partner in a witches Sabbath. (Levy 122). The other character in this story
was the devil or the other antagonist of Young Goodman Brown. The devil figure
has a double function; he encourages and frightens the next candidate up for the
evil baptism or damnation. This man is seen as an old person dressed raggedly
and considered to be evil in a sense because he is in the forest. He leads Young
Brown through the woods with a staff. A staff to some may symbolize Godliness
but this one was carved in the shape of a snake, which is associated with evil
and sneakiness as in the Garden of Eden. This staff is what Young Goodman Brown
carried in to the witch meeting. Even though there were some major characters,
there were some flat characters also: Goody Cloyse, the minister, and the
deacon. Goody Cloyse was supposed to be the holy lady that taught everyone the
catechism but she was just as evil as the forest because she was also a witch.
The minister and the deacon were also corrupted and evil. They all were
considered to be holy and people of God, but they were just the opposite.
“Young Goodman Brown” was a short story that dealt with the realisms of
reality. There was a question asked by the author at the end of the story: was
this story a dream or was it reality? Young Goodman Brown at the beginning of
this story was a immature, good, loyal, trustworthy, and holy man. He lacked
strength, courage, firmness, seriousness, and determination as Puritan should,
but at a point in this story he became an adult and matured. The story ended
with Goodman Brown becoming a stern, sad darkly meditative, distrustful, if not
desperate man. Hawthorne used all the character in this story to prove that good
people also contain evil aspects. This story has proven to be a success.

Adams, Richard P. Hawthorne’s Provincial Tales. Oklahoma, 1972.
Parenthetical note: (Adams 70-77) Daugherty, Sara B. The Literary Criticism of
Henry James. Ed. Sara Daugherty. Ohio: 1981. (Daugherty 39, 96-97) Gale, Robert.
Nathaniel Hawthorne Encyclopedian. New York: London, (541-542) Levy, Leo B.
“Journal of English and Germanic Philogoly.” The Problems of Faith in
“Young Goodman Brown: no. 3 (1975) The Board of Trustees of the University of
Illinois. (Levy 115-127) Mandell, Stephen. Ed. Literature. :Young Goodman Brown:
By Nathaniel Hawthorne. New New York: 1991. (298-308)
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