The Sins Of Young Goodman Brown

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It is impossible to fairly analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story, "Young Goodman Brown" around a single literary approach. American novelist, essayist, and poet, Herman Melville, once wrote about Hawthorn's short story that it over time, like wine, it only improves in flavor and body (The Life and Works of Herman Melville). Hawthorne's short story continues to get better with age, and carries today's readers into a world filled with a plethora of meanings for them to pick from its symbolism. Modern readers have interpreted the meaning of Goodman Brown's experience in many ways, but to pigeon hole the story into one view would destroy its veracity. In order to grasp the allegory Hawthorne communicated so skillfully, the story needs to be considered in a way that recognizes the blending of its historical background and its relationship to religious symbolism within that perspective. Hawthorne's tale begins early in the evening, when the young Goodman Brown reluctantly leaves his new wife, Faith (aptly named), and heads toward the forest to embark on an over night journey into the darkness of his own soul, accompanied by none other than the devil himself. The story is set in Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorn establishes the story's time frame with the description of the newly wed Goodman Brown as the son of a man who fought in King Philip's War (Hawthorne 200). As this war is fought around 1675, Goodman Brown is entering adulthood and old enough to marry by the early 1690's. The Salem witch trials were in the year 1692 (Scott Atkins). This time period is important because it points out that the village of Salem is in a discriminating and elevated state of religious oppression. The village people of Salem live according to a pleasure-deprived and strict Puritanical moral code, which eventually leads to terror, fanaticism, many claims of witchcraft, and the deaths of innocent people. Any phenomena that can not be explained are accepted as witchcraft and generally questioned by no one. Cotton Mather, a prominent Massachusetts theologian of the time, wrote a manual which was used to prosecute the "witches." This manual spawned an unhealthy preoccupation with witchcraft (Atkins). Hawthorne writes that as Goodman Brown makes his way through the forest, he is seemingly swallowed up in the gloom of darkness and that he never actually visibly identifies the travelers he "feels sure" are passing him. The mingled sounds "appeared" to pass along the road, and he "could have sworn" that he recognizes the voices of people he knows (Hawthorne 202).
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