A Circular Plot in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown
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In the concluding paragraph of "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne uses the forest experience to its fullest effect, moving Brown through another series of separations to the ultimate separation, from life itself. To some critics, in fact, the concluding paragraph itself has seemed a separation, breaking the neat circularity of Hawthorne's plot, moving in linear fashion through time from Brown's figurative death at the threshold of his house to his literal death at the threshold of the grave. Yet I agree wholeheartedly with Richard Abcarian, though for different reasons, that the paragraph is not anticlimactic, a digression, an example solely of Hawthorne's penchant for heavy moralizing, or a violation of the neatly unified circular form [Abacarian, "The Ending of 'Young Goodman Brown'," Studies in Short Fiction III, No. 3, Spring 1966].
First, the paragraph is replete with echoes, especially verbal echoes, which tie it to incidents in the forest experience while the effect of that experience reaches its highest peak. That Goodman Brown has become permanently stern and sad as a result of his one night in the forest is linked to his stern and sad look into Faith's eyes on his return, and is further linked, ironically, to the soft and sad plea she whispered into his ear on his departure. That Brown has become "darkly meditative" contrasts his "pleasant and praiseworthy meditations" after the meeting with Goody Cloyse. The "anthem of sin" that he henceforth hears at Sabbath service in the meeting house corresponds to the "dreadful anthem" swelling out of the forest at the beginning of the Black Mass. The blessed strain of the holy psalms is "drown...
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...es the terrible beauty of Brown's position between two worlds. The evil process in the forest has disqualified Brown from relation with the "goodly procession" which follows him. He must live in the village with the sight of the forest, till death calls him. In the symbolic terms of the story, Brown literally has no place else to go, and even death provides no escape. Hawthorne treats Brown's death neither as the time of triumph for the godly, nor as the time of the solace of annihilation for the tortured; and his sonorous but studiedly objective language here simply does not encourage emotional commitment. So, gloom inevitably has the last word.
Edward J. Gallagher, "The Concluding Paragraph of 'Young Goodman Brown'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. XII, No. 1, Winter, 1975, pp. 29-30. Reprinted in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 29.