Nathaniel Hawthorne 's Young Goodman Brown

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Young Goodman Brown in Historical Context
In order to grasp the allegory Hawthorne uses in Young Goodman Brown, the story needs to be considered in a way that recognizes the blending of its historical background at the time of the Salem Witch trials and its relationship to religious symbolism within that perspective. By understanding the Puritan beliefs about sin, the forest and their own inherent faith, it becomes easier for the reader to understand the deeper meaning of Goodman Brown’s journey into the forest.
The woods that Brown enters to meet with the devil are the embodiments of his own fears and suspicions. He is uncertain about making a contract with the devil saying “Faith kept me back awhile” (Hawthorne 4). Despite his hesitation he continues his dark journey. Hawthorne writes that as Goodman Brown makes his way through the forest, he is swallowed up in the darkness and that he never visibly identifies those he feels are near him. The sounds “appeared” to pass along the road, and he “could have sworn” that he recognizes the voices of people he knows (Hawthorne 7). Hawthorne shows that the Puritans’ belief in witches and their suspicions toward one another are enough proof for them to accuse innocent people of sin and possibly convict them to death based on pure speculation and paranoid hysteria.
One element of Young Goodman Brown is a criticism of Puritan self-righteousness; the devil points out to Brown that he has “a very general acquaintance here in New England” and then proceeds to cite instances of hypocrisy, prejudice, and persecution (Hawthorne 5). The devil also reveals that he is familiar with Brown’s ancestors, leading them toward sin (Hawthorne 5). All of this is disturbing to Brown and the issue of evil is f...

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... Dead.”), Hawthorne’s story provides the atmosphere in which such paranoia and delusion could take place. As Alan Simpson states, “The Puritan was always obsessed by his sense of sin. Taught to expect it everywhere, and to magnify it where he found it, he easily fell into the habit of inventing it” (Simpson). This allegorical story shows the destructive force of Puritan belief. Though the story makes no mention of witchcraft trials, it is easy to imagine Goodman Brown as an accuser and prosecutor of his neighbors because of his suspicion of evil in everyone except himself. By looking into the historical setting of Young Goodman Brown, the beliefs of the Puritans were one of the main causes for the communal hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials. The journey that Brown took into the forest led him to see evil in the people of the village where there might have been none.
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