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Absence of Absolute Good or Absolute Evil in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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Absence of Absolute Good or Absolute Evil in Young Goodman Brown

"'Lo! There ye stand, my children,' said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad, with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelis nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. "Depending on one another's hearts, ye had still hoped, that virtue were not all a dream. Now ye are undeceived! Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome, again, my children, to the communion of your race!'"

The above quotation from Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown is of central importance in analyzing the attitudes and ideas present throughout the story, though in a curious way. The quotation (and the story itself), on first reading, seem superficially to portray a central character's loss of faith and the spiritual tragedy contained therein. Rereading, however, reveals a more complex set of ideas, ones which neither fully condemn nor condone the strictly constructed dichotomy of good and evil that Hawthorne employs again and again over the course of Goodman Brown's journey.

I think Hawthorne had much more in mind than a mere outline of good and evil. His primary struggle in Young Goodman Brown seems to be less with faith vs. the faithless void than with the points in between these states. The story seems more about the journey through between two rigidly defined states than about good and evil. By describing good and evil through heavy-handed metaphors and symbols, such as his wife's name and the satanic communion he finds himself at in the forest, and then describing goodman Brown's inability to adapt his self-image to the hypocrisy he finds, Hawthorne comments on the ultimate failure of such a rigidly proscribed formula for...

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... these two states than it is about a definitive statement on outlining a definition of "proper" human behavior.

Works Cited

Capps, Jack L. "Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown", Explicator, Washington D.C., 1982 Spring, 40:3, 25.

Easterly, Joan Elizabeth. "Lachrymal Imagery in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown", Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry, S.C., 1991 Summer, 28:3, 339-43.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodmam Brown", The Story and Its Writer, 4th ed. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1995, 595-604.

Shear, Walter. "Cultural Fate and Social Freedom in Three American Short Stories", Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry, S.C., 1992 Fall, 29:4, 543-549.

Tritt, Michael. "Young Goodman Brown and the Psychology of Projection", Studies in Short Fiction, Newberry, S.C., 1986 Winter, 23:1, 113-117.