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Ambiguity and Uncertainty in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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Ambiguity and Uncertainty in Young Goodman Brown

In "Young Goodman Brown," Nathaniel Hawthorne, through the use of deceptive imagery, creates a sense of uncertainty that illuminates the theme of man's inability to operate within a framework of moral absolutism. Within every man there is an innate difference between good and evil and Hawthorne's deliberate use of ambiguity mirrors this complexity of human nature. Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, is misled by believing in the perfectibility of humanity and in the existence of moral absolutes. According to Nancy Bunge, Hawthorne naturally centers his story upon a Puritan protagonist to convey the "self-righteous" that he regards as the "antithesis of wisdom"(4). Consequently, Young Goodman Brown is unable to accept the indefinable vision of betrayal and evil that he encounters in the forest. The uncertainty of this vision, enhanced by Hawthorne's deliberate, yet effective, use of ambiguity, is also seen in the character of Faith, the shadows and darkness of the forest, and the undetectable boundaries that separate nightmarish dreams from reality.

The ambiguity surrounding Young Goodman Brown's wife, Faith, immediately becomes apparent at the story's beginning. As Young Goodman Brown is leaving his comfortable and reverent Puritan home to embark upon this mysterious journey, Faith unexpectedly plunges her "pretty head into the street" allowing the wind to tousle and "play with the pink ribbons of her cap"(1199). Hawthorne uses natural imagery, such as the image of the wind "playing" with Faith's pink ribbons, to convey Faith's attachment to nature; the dark and mysterious part of life that is somewhere outside the constraints of Puritan society. In fact, the image...

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