An Analysis of Theme in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his short story “Young Goodman Brown,” details the frailty of human morality when he has the story’s protagonist (Goodman Brown) journey through the forest on All Hollows Eve to witness/participate in a witches’ Sabbath just to see what evil/sin is all about. During Young Goodman Brown’s journey, his faith is shaken as he witnesses those he respects the most also journeying to and participating in the witch’s Sabbath. In “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne demonstrates that an idealistic faith in our fellow man’s righteousness could lead to disappointment, distrust, and fear.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, like many writers, uses his stories to illustrate or criticize moral principles, and while it would be nice if they could simply state the principle, it seems using a story to illustrate the principle helps the reader understand better. According to Rena Korb, " ‘Young Goodman Brown’ takes the form of an allegory, which uses certain elements of a story (characters, plot, etc.), or the entire story itself to symbolize something else” (2). Indeed, Nathaniel Hawthorne makes liberal use of allegory and symbolism, with every person and just about every object being used in an allegorical or symbolic way to represent both good and evil.

But the heart of this story centers on a theme of initiation, an initiation that result in the demise of Goodman Brown’s happiness. To understand why Goodman Brown became “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man…” (482), the reader needs to understand Goodman Brown’s childhood. Goodman Brown grew up in the late 1600’s, in Salem Village, Massachusetts; a village settled by the Puritans. The Puritans are a people know for their strict moral...

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... his journey this night caused. In that case, Nathaniel Hawthorne might have had bright and cheery stories to write about the Puritan society of his ancestors. But that is another story.

Works Cited

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Easterley, Joan Elizabeth. “Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Studies in Short Fiction

28.3. (Summer 1991): 339. Student Resource Center. Lynn Lib, Amarillo Coll. 27 Nov. 2009 .

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Literature Reading, Reacting, Writing.”

Compact 7th Ed. Kirszner & Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010. 474-483.

King James Bible, Rom. 3.23

Korb, Rena. "Overview of Young Goodman Brown." Exploring Short Stories. (2003) Student

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