Self-rejection and Self-damnation in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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Self-rejection and Self-damnation in Young Goodman Brown

In "Young Goodman Brown," the story's protagonist embarks on a metaphorical errand on which he plans to confront the evil within himself. Unprepared to accept this as part of his human nature, he instead rejects it, ultimately prescribing his own doom.

The fantastic spirit of Young Goodman's travel is revealed at the story's outset, when he holds an appointment with a mysterious individual and must leave his wife, Faith, behind for the adventure. When he departs, his "Faith" protests: "pray thee, put off your journey," she pleads, fearing the possibility that he may not return. This is the first element of the metaphor: Brown's spiritual, Christian self risks being overwhelmed on this errand, revealing the journey's introspective nature. Author Hawthorne later reemphasizes this idea when Brown meets with his older self, who asks why Brown is late for their rendezvous. "Faith kept me back awhile," he responds, admitting his initial hesitation.

Though Goodman Brown balks at making this spiritual trek without the security of his religious virtue, he must make it alone: he cannot allow the bias of his Christian upbringing to confuse the true strength of his character, for he likely regards this journey as a cleansing. "After this one night," he says of Faith, "I'll cling to her skirts and follow her into Heaven." He feels he must first face his demons to deserve entry into the kingdom of God.

When Brown encounters the shadowy figure with whom he has planned his journey, Hawthorne makes it quite clear that the stranger is in some way a reflection of Goodman Brown: "the second traveler was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman B...

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... evils. Hawthorne illustrates his commentary when he has Brown meet Faith on his way to church: "she skipt along the street, and almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But, Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting." In his righteousness, he turns his back on his own faith. Ultimately, he distances himself from God while attempting to distance himself from evil. Brown's "dying hour was gloom"; his demand for absoluteness drives him to reject himself and damn his own soul. Hawthorne warns us not to make the same error, for "The fiend in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man."

Works Cited:

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 5th ed. Eds. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle Riva: Prentice Hall, 1988.
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