The setting of the story is in the 17th century in Salem, Massachusetts where the center of witchcraft occurred in history. As a backgrounder, during those times, most people believed in witchcraft. The belief originated from Europe where 500,000 people were executed for it between 15th and 17th centuries. Before the outbreak of witchcraft, nearly 300 people had been indicted of witchcraft and more than 30 have been hanged.
Both men and women have been jailed and executed those times. Almost everyone who was accused of witchcraft were older women who were likely to be independent and eccentric. This hysteria was believed by historians essential because it was the last time in the history of America that allegations of witchcraft would lead to execution. The experience and its aftershocks also marked the conclusion of Puritan authority in New England. During those times, the leaders of the community of Salem, including those young innocent people like Goodman Brown were easily allured by wicked figures to join cults.
The story starts in motion with young Brown leaves his three-month wife, Faith home, and meets a stranger, with a staff resembling a snake, in a forest to join undetermined, but evidently unholy ceremony. It is being discussed in the story that his wife, Faith, wears a hat with pink ribbons on it. Hawthorne explains the character of the wife by the symbol of pink ribbons which entails daintiness, fragility and innocence. He also supports the wife’s vulnerable character when Brown tries to hide the purpose of leaving from his wife with the reason that it might break her fragile heart.
At the time of meeting of Brown and the man with a staff, the author also gives a briefing of the stranger’s character. He makes the stranger carry a staff which resembles a snake. It is being associated to the rod thrown by Aaron, a biblical character, before the Pharaoh. It also symbolizes lies and deceit which explains the character of the one who uses it. Hence, the staff of Brown’s companion is being linked to evil. As Brown goes on with the journey with his companion deep in the forest, Hawthorne inserts credibility to the character of the stranger. Credibility so to confuse the readers whether the stranger is good or bad…whether he is wicked or not. It sets the mood of confusion when the author explains that the stranger’s looks could be mistaken for a father of Brown.
He pictures out that the two resembles each other. The author stops not there for the purpose of confusing the readers more. He also tries to puzzle the readers when the stranger utters to the main character that he once, worked with Brown’s parents which gains the stranger credibility so Brown will be comfortable journeying with him. Hawthorne is successful in building the mysterious character of the stranger. At one point of their journey, the stranger offers his staff to Brown to help the main character on their way to the unexplained ceremony. Brown refuses to take it which could be a symbol of the author that the main character is not fully convinced to wickedness yet.
As the two moves on, the story shows that Brown begins to realize that a lot of his townsfolk are traveling towards the ceremony which surprises him particularly when he sees the Deacon, the Minister and the woman who taught him catechism whom he considers models of the Christian community. On that note, the author is leading the readers to think about two things; either those people familiar to Brown are really heading towards the ceremony or the stranger, who plays the devil role to those who Hawthorne isn’t able to confuse, just makes a mere imagination for Brown, but both serves the same purpose, to lure him to the ceremony.
The ideas are applicable to the story and Hawthorne uses figures like those people whom Brown looks up to like the Deacon, the Minister and the woman who taught him catechism. Noticing all these, he understands that not everyone, who seems to do good things, shows holiness and preaches the good word is sincere to what they do. This realization makes him want to turn back at some point but for some reason, he decides to proceed. Hawthorne could be showing that the main character’s step to wickedness progresses.
At some point of Brown’s journey, he is traveling alone when he sees his wife also heading towards the ceremony. That scene gives him mixed emotions. Excitement captures his being because at one point of his journey, he wanted to just go back to his loving Faith, but disappointment overrules his soul. He is disappointed knowing that his wife is to be initiated at the ceremony. He never imagined that his three-month wife, fragile and loving, whom he tried to protect from his own evil, will be corrupted too.
Hawthorne is able to support his description of Brown’s three-month marriage with Faith. Being married to someone for such a short time illustrates that there are lots of things to be discovered from each other. There could be lots of surprises. On that note, Brown understands more that even his wife, whom he trusts so much, who seems to be not capable of doing anything immoral, could be wicked too. The author must also have used the word innocent as a hint that this character could easily be deceived by anyone.
As the story goes on, Brown stops for a moment, being in deep pain of the knowledge that his wife will also be at the ceremony. He calls the witches and devils and says “fear this Brown as he fears you.” Hawthorne makes a terrifyingly great scene here. He adds strong winds, sounds coming not from a single man and shadows waving coming from the trees. He pictures the scene well. And as Brown accepts that his wife is also attending the ceremony, he considers just going on.
A scene in the story, when Brown sees a pink ribbon falling from the sky that leads him to losing his Faith in two aspects. Brown still goes on to the ceremony. It was shown by the author by his incredible picture-painting talent that Brown was determined to continue his journey in the woods to the ceremony but dragging his feet at the same time. The actor in the motion picture should be very good at doing this, tag with an excellent director in order to show what the author is trying to picture. A trophy for Hawthorne.
During the ceremony, Brown sees a lot of newly converted members. Hawthorne paints a clear picture of the ceremony. A fire-lit place in the deepest of a forest, a rocky altar at the
middle where a minister preaches and the converts who are being called to come forth the altar to be anointed by blood to seal their souls with wickedness which complete the ceremony picture. Basing the review of the story in old English language, it doesn’t state there if the couple, Brown
and Faith, comes forth the altar together. On the other hand, considering the other versions of the story, in modern English language, it states that Brown, behind the tress, sees his wife
approaching the altar for the anointing and sobs to her not to accept the communion and look to the heavens. On that note, Hawthorne’s original masterpiece, not the translated one, is vague. Either it is intentional or he overlooks at it. As per the other critics, Hawthorne is inexperienced and lacks at so many areas as a writer. Some writers call it a “License”, like a poet’s license. But whatever that is, it should be discussed well. If Hawthorne does it intentionally, it should be supported with explanation, not necessarily through words but a mere correlation to the plot. In this case, Hawthorne is not able to supply the missing information.
As the story proceeds to the ceremony, it shows there that Brown is definitely not amazed with what is happening. He sees familiar faces like his neighbors and other not mentioned characters but clearly refer to people who never crossed his innocent young mind could be there. One instance there is he sees a figure who has the likeness of his mom trying to stop him from being one with them. Hawthorne at this part, again, wins a trophy for “imaginational” effects. If the motion picture of this story follows the concepts of the author, it would be a great success.
He uses terms likes “figures” and “unclear images” to make his readers understand that those people described as figures are those who have been anointed and became wicked. In the story, it shows that these people are imprisoned by the anointing. They are living but unfree, somebody but dead. Imagine what they look like…living-dead beings which make the ceremony scarier. Hawthorne’s description of the
scene is very essential to make the ceremony spooky. After the scene at the ceremony, Brown finds himself standing beside a big, cold and damp rock. This surely confused the readers. A teleportation from the ceremony back to the woods. He is thinking if the experience at the ceremony is a dream or a reality. Either of the two, it’s a nightmare. Hawthorne is letting his readers think what really transpired. While I was at the ceremony part, I thought I was at the climax of the story. I realized I was wrong. This is the peak. Hawthorne leaves us a question if it really happened, just like Brown’s question to himself.
The next morning, back in Salem, Goodman’s view about his neighbors, the leaders of the Christian community, everyone who seems to practice good conduct and even his wife is attached with skepticism. Did the journey really happen or it was a dram in slumber? The author doesn’t tell us and it doesn’t matter. Brown goes back to Salem a changed man. He is never able to see his neighbors the same way like before, and becomes a sour hermit. He never able to see his wife the same way again and becomes an isolated husband.
As per a source, Brown despises these people because he sees that same traits in himself. Like the people in his journey, he questions his own religion. However, he projects his own fears onto those around him. The dream is a manifestation of all of the insecurities he has about himself and the choices he has made in life. However, he is too proud to acknowledge his own faults. His life ends alone and miserable because he was never able to look at himself and realize that what he believed were everyone else’s faults were his as well. He is completely isolated from his society. Thus, he begins to become jaded and cynical about the things happening around him. The troubled Goodman lives his life with disbelief, uncertainty and doubt.
Brown is a changed man after his journey. Hawthorne demonstrates how he, a Puritan, fails the test of his honest and religious being. Hawthorne uses cold drops from the hanging twig which is not a typical baptism in most Christians because they don’t sprinkle on the head. This means that Brown cannot be a true Christian himself.
The beginning of the story represents immaturity, goodness and ever man. Brown is a very religious in nature. Not knowing the hurdles lie ahead, he journey to the dark uncertainly forest. Brown is said to be nave because he went to the evil forest in spite of his wife’s warning of the danger that could be encountered. It demonstrates the prototype of the innocent. He becomes irrational optimistic towards his wife’s cautioning him to go to the forester. The use of symbolism in Young Goodman Brown shows that evil is everywhere, which becomes evident in the conclusion of this story.
He feels like his father and grandfather committed great sins. We take a journey with him into the awful forest. There is always an association between forests and evil. As per the other critics of the story, the name Goodman refers to everyone. But actually, it perfectly explains the main character Goodman, who happens to be a good guy but also has tendencies to be enticed by wickedness. The name is also accompanied by the word “Young” which simply explains the word itself…young.
In the story, it shows that he, Goodman, tries to turn back a couple of times because of his Faith in two aspects, his wife and faith itself. But realizing that his wife is to be initiated at the ceremony, disappointment lives on his face and resumes to his original plan. With uncertainty and anxiety, he declines to be anointed and looks to the heavens above. This simply clarifies the statement above that he has tendencies to be enticed by wickedness. All men can be drawn to such horrifying acts but can also decline the temptation.
This typical form of a biblical story shows Browns efforts in grasping the nature of good and evil. He has his communal society and religious values but those were not enough for him. He went on a journey to search and found the answers from the dark side. He then changed into a pessimistic man from an optimistic one. He was once innocent from the reality, and due to his curiosity, he was faced squarely to it. Brown looked for the nature of good and evil and found the answer. The story shows where the line is drawn between good and evil and who are in danger crossing it. Hawthorne skillfully reveals the shadowy area between Good and Evil, where it is hard to determine if something is good or evil. Through his questioning of one moment in his life, his journey, he begins to question the validity of everything and everyone around him.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel Young Goodman Brown. The modern library of the world’s best books. Charlottesville, VA, University of Virginia Library, 1996.
Bloom, Harold. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Modern critical views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel, Peter George, and Robert Tinnell. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown. Princeton, NJ: Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2000.
Fox, Donald, William Phelps, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Young Goodman Brown. Santa Monica, CA: Pyramid Media [distributor], 1990s.
Young Goodman Brown. Perfection Learning, 1979.
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