This essay intends to develop an interpretation of the theme of “Young Goodman Brown”.
To come by a clear notion of the theme of “Young Goodman Brown” is no easy task, thanks to the confusing style of the author. As A.N. Kaul says in the “Introduction” to Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays:
Because Hawthorne was much given to evasions, mystifications, and prevarications of various sorts, because he repeatedly confuses the issues by shying sway from them, because he often talks of his fiction in terms of misty legends and faded blooms, because, in short, he seems frequently to disclaim his own vital interests, we must take care not to lose from sight those aspects of his work that are most essential to his vision. . . . (2)
This indefinete approach toward situations in his writings makes Hawthorne very ambiguous. Henry James in Hawthorne says that the reader has to fumble for and grope for the meaning (50); The Norton Anthology: American Literature states in “Nathaniel Hawthorne” that “about his theme he was always ambivalent” (548); H.J. Lang in “How Ambiguous Is Hawthorne?” states three varieties of ambiguity that Hawthorne is guilty of in “Young Goodman Brown” and several other tales (86-87). Ambiguity, doubt, ambivalence; everyone agrees that “Young Goodman Brown” is not open to solid, objective interpretation. Each reader, it would seem, must form his own opinion of the meaning of the tale; there is no correct statement of its themes and sub-themes as for most literary works. Lang proceeds to survey some masterful critics’ interpretations of the tale:
G.E. Woodberry said the theme is “the secrecy of men’s bosoms”; A. Waren sai...
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“Hawthorne and His Mosses.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature, edited by Baym et al. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1995.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc.,1959. 247-56.
James, Henry. Hawthorne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.
Kaul, A.N. “Introduction.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Martin, Terence. Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1965.
“Nathaniel Hawthorne.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature, edited by Baym et al. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1995.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.
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