Free Essays: Symbolism in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

1136 Words5 Pages
Nathaniel Hawthorne's work is typically fraught with symbolism, much of it deriving from his puritan ancestry. Hawthorne was obsessed with the themes of sin and guilt. John Roth notes that "A number of recurring thematic patterns and character types appear in Hawthorne's novels and tales" (Roth 76). Because he is speaking of what we would later come to call the unconscious, Hawthorne extensively employed the use of symbolism, which bypasses the conscious to tap into its more dream- like process below (Roth 76). In his short story "Young Goodman Brown," the main character Goodman Brown goes off into the woods and undergoes what will be a life changing experience. "Young Goodman Brown," was written in the nineteenth century but is undoubtedly set in the seventeenth century, and for the early Americans in this time period the forest was a symbol of the test of strength, courage, and endurance. It took a lot of courage to survive there, and the young person entering the forest would not emerge the same. But the story is more symbolic than realistic, and the dangers that Goodman Brown encounters in the forest are not Indians or bears; they are dangers of the spirit. It is no accident that such an experience should have taken place in the forest, because there is a long and extremely profound tradition in American literature where experiences of this nature haven taken place in forest settings. Psychologist Bruno Betelheim observes that "Since ancient times the near impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden near-impenetrable world of our unconscious" (Betelheim, 94). However, this does not appear in "Young Goodman Brown." Instead of bravely battling down the dangers of the forest and emerging a more mature person, Goodman Brown emerges a ruined man. It should not go unrecognized that Goodman Brown's wife, a light-hearted, genuine woman, has the name Faith. Faith is not by any means an unusual name for a woman, especially in puritan times, but it becomes significant in the story because she is presented to us first as a very young bride with pink ribbons in her hair, almost like a child. Her pink ribbons symbolize her youth, and her name symbolizes her husband's childlike spirituality at the beginning of the story. Christianity historically has been a religion of obedience and devotion much more than one of logic, as much as the framers of the age of reason would try to argue otherwise.
Open Document