Extremism Revealed in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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Extremism Revealed in Young Goodman Brown

Hawthorne depicts a 17th century Puritan attempting to reach justification as Brown’s faith required. Upon completing his journey, however, Brown could not confront the terrors of evil in his heart and chose to reject all of society. Puritan justification was a topic Hawthorne was aware of as a journey to hell necessary for a moral man. Having referred to the heart of man as hell, Puritans founds themselves in the midst of Satan and his multitude of devils as he established his kingdom in man’s heart. This was a dreadful revelation that caused Brown to grow bitter and distrustful. Puritan communities, secured by their orthodox faith, dealt with the ungodly wilderness around them.

Set in Salem during the early witchcraft day of then, Young Goodman Brown’s experience in the dark, evil forest correlated and would have been recognized by Puritans as a symbol of mistrust of their own corrupt hearts and faculties. Just as man could not trust the shadows and figures he saw hidden in the forest, he could not trust his own desires. Those desires had to be tested through his journey into the forest. Those evil spirits constantly tortured the Puritan, constantly reminding him of his sin and the battle in his own heart. Hawthorne used the presence of this demon in "Young Goodman Brown" by demonstrating, through Brown, the Puritan Journey towards Justification. Going through the forest towards Justification was marked by the disappearance of the self. In place of the self, was the awareness of helplessness and the illusions of sin. This awareness would then assist the moral man to no longer depend upon material things or people, but to put his faith solely upon God. Hawthorne’s knowledge of the historical background of Puritanism combined with the personal experience of his early life and the history of his own family merge into the statement that "Young Goodman Brown" makes. A system in which individuals cannot trust themselves, their neighbors, their instructors or even their ministers cannot create and atmosphere where faith exists.

Hawthorne’s tale places the newly wed Puritan Brown upon the road to what may or may not be a true conversion experience. The conversion experience, a sudden realization brought about by divine intervention, a vision, or perhaps a dream, easily translates into the dream of Hawthorne’s work and allows the author to use Puritan doctrine and the history of Salem to argue the merits and consequences of such a belief.
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