Innocence Lost Through Puritanism in Young Goodman Brown

Innocence Lost Through Puritanism in Young Goodman Brown

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Innocence lost through Puritanism?

To truly comprehend the themes in "Young Goodman Brown" you must first understand the influences on Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing. According to the website, Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, son of also a Nathaniel Hawthorne, was actually a descendant of John Hathorne, one of the judges who oversaw the Salem Witch Trials. Because of Hawthorne's Puritan upbringing, much of writings are moral allegories set in colonial New England. Hawthorne returns again to Salem in "Young Goodman Brown" and deals with the theme of the loss of innocence. This theme works to argue the benefits and consequences of Goodman Brown's beliefs before and after his encounter with the devil as well as the beliefs of the Puritans as a whole.
A central theme of the loss of innocence can be found throughout the entire story.
Even the first two characters introduced both seem as innocent as could be. Take the name Young Goodman Brown for example; innocence is associated with the word "young" as well as the word "good." Hawthorne uses these words to give Brown a naïve persona much like most young Puritans of his time. His newly wed wife, Faith, symbolizes the faith he clings to in his life. Hawthorne must have also used her name as a symbol for not only Brown but for all Puritans. Puritans cling to faith blindly hoping they are the chosen ones entitled an entrance to heaven. The color pink, of the ribbon she wears, is a color associated with childhood innocence and purity. Young, innocent, and pure are all things Brown considers his wife to be at the beginning of the story. After we are introduced to the first characters Brown sets off into the forest where he will eventually learn the truth of things and in doing so lose his innocence. Once on his journey into the forest Hawthorne writes, "He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind" (148). Brown is venturing into the unknown; the path closing behind him is symbolic of there being no turning back once he has lost his innocence. Once on his way with the devil, Brown learns of his father's and grandfather's affiliations with him. Once honest people in Brown's eyes, these men now become symbols of how surrounded by evil he actually is.

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He is astonished by the fact that Goody Cloyse is associated with the devil as well, and says, "That old woman taught me my catechism." Hawthorne writes, "And there was a world of meaning in this simple comment" (151). Brown must have been experiencing much doubt because of the fact that someone who taught him all he knew about religion was actually a pawn of the devil. Self-doubt is another issue brought on by the Puritan education system which Goody Cloyse was a part of. Brown later learns that his deacon and minister are also in route to a witch meeting. Having all this brought to light bewilders Brown and makes him further question himself. Brown gives up his faith once he sees his wife's pink ribbon fall from the sky and journeys on to take part in the witch meeting. Once all is said and done Brown returns to town a bitter fearful man to live out the rest of his life that way.
The outcome of this story as well as Goodman Brown's suspicion can be blamed on his religion. The Puritan religion is one of strict moral code and overemphasizing sin. Hawthorne uses the rigidity and self-doubting Puritan religion to show the consequences of such a thought system. The works of John Calvin were especially central to Puritan beliefs. Calvinism held that human beings were innately sinful and corrupted by inheriting the original sin of Adam and Eve. Although seemingly doomed to a life of sin, Puritans believed that they were predestined to have a place in heaven. The character Brown represents a normal person in Puritan times and how hard it must have been to believe this. This way of life helps Brown foster much suspicion and distrust among the other townspeople. The story starts out with Brown leaving his wife Faith to venture into the forest in the dark of the night. If in fact a dream, you can get an idea of how much doubt and suspicion Puritanism brings about in the complexity of Brown's dream. Such a vivid dream must have had much prior thought. Paragraph eight gives us a description of what Brown conceptualizes as a godless life in the description of the forest. It is dark, tangled, and poorly visible. This symbolizes the loneliness and confusion Brown must have been going through before he had this dream. Later on the same page Brown meets what is to be considered the devil in this story in the same forest. He states in a kind of ironic way, "Faith kept me back a while" (148). This further emphasizes the suspicion fostered by his Puritan beliefs.
It is easy to se that only the Puritan doctrine can be blamed for cultivating so much suspicion as to mistrust other townspeople, teachers, and even your own mind. Hawthorne must have been writing this story to show that faith cannot exist in an atmosphere where there is so much distrust and what it can do to a person.
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