The Style of Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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“Young Goodman Brown” – the Style

Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty and E. Hudson Long in “The Social Criticism of a Public Man” state: “Beyond his remarkable sense of the past, which gives a genuine ring to the historical reconstructions, beyond his precise and simple style, which is in the great tradition of familiar narrative, the principal appeal of his work is in the quality of its allegory” (49). The style found in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” contains the features quoted in the above passage, as well as many others – which will be discussed in this essay.

The “precise” style mentioned by Bradley above may be the “detailed” style stated by Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography”; she says: “In his journal – a kind of artist’s sketchbook – he recorded twenty-five thousand words describing people and places in detail” based on two brief visits (18). The author’s attention to detail may be the reason that every word seems to be meaningful in his sentences. Can you discard any words from the opening sentence without sacrificing some meaning: “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife.”

The reader can notice right away that Hawthorne writes in a well-read and cultivated style, avoiding the use of profanity, vulgar language, or words offensive to the ear. Consider his precise word selection from an enormous vocabulary:

They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveller exhorted his companion to make good speed and persevere in the path, discoursing so aptly, that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor, than to be suggested by himself. As they went, he plucked a branch of maple, to serve for a walking-stick, and began to strip it of the twigs and little boughs, which were wet with evening dew

Even the most emotional outburst in the entire story does not contain any language remotely displeasing or uncultivated: "’Ha! ha! ha!’ roared Goodman Brown, when the wind laughed at him. "Let us hear which will laugh loudest! Think not to frighten me with your deviltry! Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powow, come devil himself! and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you!’"
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