Essay, Research Paper: Young Goodman Brown

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Nathaniel Hawthorne made his mark as a major American writer in 1850, with the
publication of The Scarlet Letter. His work appeals to different levels of
readers because he creates complex and elaborate settings. Through conflicts
within his characters, he analyzes the moral and psychological issues often
consumed by their own passions. As he was growing up he could not escape the
influence of Puritan religion. This influence along with the setting of his
hometown in Salem, Massachusetts are common topics in his work in "Young
Goodman Brown." Nathaniel Hawthorne considers the question of good and
evil, suggesting that true evil is judging and condemning others for sin without
looking at one's own sinfulness. He examines the idea that sin is part of being
human and there is no escape from it. Of the many symbols he uses in this story,
each has a profound meaning. They represent good and evil in the constant
struggle of a young innocent man whose faith is being tested. As the story
begins, Young Goodman Brown bids farewell to his young wife "Faith, as
[she] was aptly named" (211). When she " …thrust her own pretty head
into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap" we
associate the purity of "Faith" and the "pink ribbons" as a
sign of the innocence and goodness of the town he is leaving behind (211). As he
continues "on his present evil purpose" he sets off at sunset to enter
the forest (212). A place "darkened by all the gloomiest trees,"
unknown territory, and a place where "there may be a devilish Indian behind
every tree," with this we know the forest represents evil and sinfulness
(212). His decision to enter the forest and leave his "Faith" behind
is the first decision, of many, between good and evil that he must make. After
entering the forest he meets a traveler whom he later finds out is the devil. He
is carrying a staff representing evil, "which bore the likeness of a great
black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and
wriggle itself, like a living serpent" (213). When the traveler offers his
staff to Young Goodman Brown he resists by replying, "having kept covenant
by meeting thee here, it is my purpose to return whence I came. I have scruples,
touching the matter thou wot'st of" (213). Still feeling strong in
resisting temptation, Young Goodman Brown refuses to "be the first of the
name of Brown, that ever took this path, and kept-" (213). At this time he
feels he can resist any temptation by keeping his faith. He refuses to believe
the devil when he reveals to him that he has been "…well acquainted with
[his] family…[they] were good friends…" (213). In disbelief Young
Goodman Brown is devastated, but knows that he still has his Faith. "It
would break her dear little heart; and I'd rather break my own!' (214). Trying
desperately he holds on to his Christian belief, that he is going to Heaven,
even when he recognizes the old woman who passes and says "That old woman
taught me catechism!" (215). Soon after he also hears Deacon Gookin and the
minister discussing the evenings event. Knowing that these people, in his mind
were the forefront of goodness on Earth, he is shattered as, " Young
Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree, for support, being ready to sink down on
the ground, faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart "
(216). He again tries to resist temptation and cries out, "With Heaven
above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" (216).
But when he hears many voices and among them is Faith, in desperation he yells
out to her. As he awaits a response, a pink ribbon that "fluttered lightly
down through the air" as he catches it he cries, "My Faith is
gone!…There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to
thee is this world given" (217). When he reaches his final destination he
has lost all faith in mankind and everything he believes in. The question,
" Had Young Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a
wild dream of a witch-meeting?" is irrelevant (221). Whether or not Young
Goodman Brown was dreaming or not, his adventure through the forest ultimately
causes him to believe that he is better than everyone else and he disassociate
himself from all those in the town as he judges them as being sinners. He
becomes "a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a
desperate man…" after his journey when he commits the ultimate sin of
judging and condemning others without looking at one's own sinfulness. In the
end "they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour
was gloom (221). Faith or Destiny Nathaniel Hawthorne made his mark as a major
American writer in 1850, with the publication of The Scarlet Letter. His work
appeals to different levels of readers because he creates complex and elaborate
settings. Through conflicts within his characters, he analyzes the moral and
psychological issues often consumed by their own passions. As he was growing up
he could not escape the influence of Puritan religion. This influence along with
the setting of his hometown in Salem, Massachusetts are common topics in his
work in "Young Goodman Brown." Nathaniel Hawthorne considers the
question of good and evil, suggesting that true evil is judging and condemning
others for sin without looking at one's own sinfulness. He examines the idea
that sin is part of being human and there is no escape from it. Of the many
symbols he uses in this story, each has a profound meaning. They represent good
and evil in the constant struggle of a young innocent man whose faith is being
tested. As the story begins, Young Goodman Brown bids farewell to his young wife
"Faith, as [she] was aptly named" (211). When she " …thrust her
own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of
her cap" we associate the purity of "Faith" and the "pink
ribbons" as a sign of the innocence and goodness of the town he is leaving
behind (211). As he continues "on his present evil purpose" he sets
off at sunset to enter the forest (212). A place "darkened by all the
gloomiest trees," unknown territory, and a place where "there may be a
devilish Indian behind every tree," with this we know the forest represents
evil and sinfulness (212). His decision to enter the forest and leave his
"Faith" behind is the first decision, of many, between good and evil
that he must make. After entering the forest he meets a traveler whom he later
finds out is the devil. He is carrying a staff representing evil, "which
bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might
almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself, like a living serpent" (213).
When the traveler offers his staff to Young Goodman Brown he resists by
replying, "having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose to
return whence I came. I have scruples, touching the matter thou wot'st of"
(213). Still feeling strong in resisting temptation, Young Goodman Brown refuses
to "be the first of the name of Brown, that ever took this path, and
kept-" (213). At this time he feels he can resist any temptation by keeping
his faith. He refuses to believe the devil when he reveals to him that he has
been "…well acquainted with [his] family…[they] were good
friends…" (213). In disbelief Young Goodman Brown is devastated, but
knows that he still has his Faith. "It would break her dear little heart;
and I'd rather break my own!' (214). Trying desperately he holds on to his
Christian belief, that he is going to Heaven, even when he recognizes the old
woman who passes and says "That old woman taught me catechism!" (215).
Soon after he also hears Deacon Gookin and the minister discussing the evenings
event. Knowing that these people, in his mind were the forefront of goodness on
Earth, he is shattered as, " Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree, for
support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and overburdened with the
heavy sickness of his heart " (216). He again tries to resist temptation
and cries out, "With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm
against the devil!" (216). But when he hears many voices and among them is
Faith, in desperation he yells out to her. As he awaits a response, a pink
ribbon that "fluttered lightly down through the air" as he catches it
he cries, "My Faith is gone!…There is no good on earth; and sin is but a
name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given" (217). When he reaches
his final destination he has lost all faith in mankind and everything he
believes in. The question, " Had Young Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the
forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?" is irrelevant
(221). Whether or not Young Goodman Brown was dreaming or not, his adventure
through the forest ultimately causes him to believe that he is better than
everyone else and he disassociate himself from all those in the town as he
judges them as being sinners. He becomes "a stern, a sad, a darkly
meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man…" after his journey
when he commits the ultimate sin of judging and condemning others without
looking at one's own sinfulness. In the end "they carved no hopeful verse
upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom (221).
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