Young Goodman Brown - A Thematic Illustration

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Nathaniel Hawthorne comes from an interesting background. He was born in Salem and later returned to live there. He was a descendant of William Hathorne, a puritan judge who persecuted Quakers, and John Hathorne, a puritan magistrate who participated in the Salem witch trials. Hawthorne's kinship to these two notables of puritan history makes the story "Young Goodman Brown," all the more interesting. Hawthorne alludes to John Hathorne when he writes about Goodman Brown's "fellow traveler" commenting on Brown's grandfather, who "lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem."

"Young Goodman Brown" is about one man's journey through the woods with the devil and his encounters that make him doubt his faith in himself, his wife, and the community in which they reside. The theme of this story is that beyond any intangible evil, the evil that men do is ultimately the more damaging. Throughout the story Hawthorne uses setting and characters as symbols representing different aspects of good and evil and he uses the plot to develop the eventual win-over of evil over "Goodman" Brown's "Faith."

Not surprisingly "Young Goodman Brown" takes place in Salem during the puritan era. The story begins with Goodman Brown departing from his wife in the village to meet with and take a stroll in the forest with a "fellow-traveler" the devil.

The contrast between the forest and the town is symbolic. On the outside, it seems like a normal, religious puritan village, but when one goes in deep, one sees there is a center of darkness. The deep, dark forest in the puritan town represents the internal evil of the villagers. The forest is viewed as mysterious, unknown and inhabited by the devil, while the town is pleasant safe and where his wife, "Faith," is. During Goodman Brown's walk through the "dark forest," he sees and learns that many of his mentors and relatives have chosen the path of evil. The forest is where all the respectable people of the town go to vent their evil while outside of the forest, they seem like they are pure and good. Hawthorne adds to the symbolism by personifying the trees "which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through" as Brown "walks alongside a dreary road."

Hawthorne uses the characters of the story also to represent good and evil. The names of the main character and his wife are ironic. Faith, in the literal context of the story, is Goodman Brown's wife.
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