Young Goodman Brown – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Young Goodman Brown
Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of the short story, Young Goodman Brown, was born in 1804 and raised in Massachusetts by his mother following his father’s death. His great grandfather was a judge in the 1692 trial of Salem witches who sentenced twenty-five witches to death. He felt ashamed that his family had been involved in the trials and expressed his feelings in writing. The majority of his stories examine the social history of the Puritans and New England. Hawthorne interacted with some famous people both in and after college. He attended Bowdoin College with Franklin Pierce (14th President of the U.S.) and Wadsworth Longfellow (poet). Out of college, he met New England authors such as David Thoreau and Ralph Emerson who were both transcendentalists; a feature Hawthorne brought out in his writing. In Young Goodman Brown, he appraises themes such as temptations, erosion of religious faith and Puritans social ills. This is a story about good and evil, and how they are perceived in society.
In the story, Goodman Brown suddenly loses his innocence during an excursion to the woods with a fellow traveller. Goodman grew up in a small village, and he thought that he knew everybody and everything happening around him. His big surprise came when he learnt that the world was not as simple as he thought. Young Goodman Brown discovered more about himself in one night than in his entire life.
Goodman learnt that his family members were not who he thought they were. He was reluctant to go into the woods because he did not want to be the first Brown to tarnish their good Christian image. He says, “We have been a race of honest men and Christians…shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept” CITATION Nat152 p 2 l 2057 (Nathaniel 2). The traveller then went ahead to reveal to Brown how well acquainted he was with the Browns. He informs him how he helped his grandfather, a constable, to persecute a Quaker woman in Salem CITATION Dob11 p 31 l 2057 (Dobie 31). He also brought his father the pitch-pine knot he used to burn an Indian Village. They were both his good friends who had visited the forest on several occasions. Goodman was surprised by this revelation and argued that if indeed they were true, a rumour about it would have driven his family from New England.
Goodman grew up with the belief that as purists, the people of Salem were righteous. He says, “We are people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness” CITATION Nat152 p 3 l 2057 (Nathaniel 3). Puritanism was the dominant faith in Salem. Browns ancestors also were Puritans, which was more of an inherited belief than a practised. Ezghoul and Zuraila argue that Brown was so blinded by Puritanism that he failed to see the real evils in his society CITATION Ezg10 p 3 l 2057 (Ezghoul and Zuraika 3). The traveller then told him that he had many associates in New England. He had shared the Holy Communion wine with many church deacons; his interests were supported by the Court and the Governor. Goodman’s response tells us how he viewed the Deacon. To him, he was a good old man whose voice would make him “tremble” CITATION Nat152 p 3 l 2057 (Nathaniel 3).
While Brown was a staunch purist, his curiosity overpowered him to go to the woods. Just before he left, he told his wife that if she prayed before she went to bed, no harm would come her way. However, he insisted on making the journey despite pleas from his wife not to. His curiosity would only be satisfied by making the journey. As he began the journey, he encountered things that as a puritan, he described as dark and evil – from the “…dreary road, darkened by…trees…” to “…a devilish Indian behind every tree” CITATION Nat152 p 1 l 2057 (Nathaniel 1). These scary encounters made him hesitant to continue with his journey. The traveller was able to convince him to go deeper into the forest as he revealed to him the truth about Salem. The more he went into the forest, the more revelations he experienced and the more his curiosity grew. We might argue that his curiosity grew as he learnt more truths and began to question Puritanism, which to him meant religious perfection and any deviation was unacceptable.
As he advanced deeper into the forest, Goodman learnt that Good Cory and his wife Faith were not as holy as they seemed. They met Cory along the way where she confessed to the traveller that she was a witch. He had known her as the woman who taught him catechism. As he approached the ceremony, he heard Faith’s voice and her pink ribbon fluttered from the sky. He then cried, “My Faith is gone!” which may be symbolic. He may have alluded that he had lost faith in Puritanism because he went further to say that the earth had no good and sin was just a name. It may also mean that his wife Faith was one of the devil’s converts CITATION Wri06 p 238 l 2057 (Wright 238). The events of that night transformed Goodman into a different person. He no longer trusted anyone in Salem; not even his wife Faith.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Dobie, Ann. Theory into Practice: An Introduction to Literary Criticism. New York: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Ezghoul, Naim and Malek Zuraika. “‘Young Goodman Brown’: The close lane.” International Journal of English and Literature 1(1) (2010): 001-006. Print.
Nathaniel, Hawthorne. “Young Goodman Brown.” 2015. Online-Literature. Print. 15 December 2015.
Wright, Sarah Bird. Critical Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2006. Print.