A literary motif “is a conspicuous element, such as a type of incident, device, reference, or formula, which occurs frequently in works of literature” (Abrams 169). Incredibly, this one tale, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, contains an array of familiar literary motifs (Axelrod 337).
First of all, the tale involves the common motif of a journey in quest of something. The young Goodman Brown, at the beginning of the story, takes leave of his wife, Faith, in order to journey into the woods where he keeps an appointment with the devil: "My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise.”
The journey continues circuitously through the narrow paths of the forest (“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.), involving encounters with the devil, Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, the local minister and his wife Faith – all of whom have been on a journey into the deepest part of the woods to attend the annual coven or witch-meeting. After considerable misgiving regarding the journey, Goodman arrives at the end of the hike in the most remote and isolated part of the forest where he and Faith are to be baptized into the devil-worshipping group and thereby learn the evil secrets hidden in the hearts of everyone:
Herein did the Shape of Evil dip his hand, and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of th...
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...e such a thing possible, that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along quietly, as they were wont to do, when bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council. While yet within hearing, one of the riders stopped to pluck a switch.
"Of the two, reverend Sir," said the voice like the deacon's, I had rather miss an ordination-dinner than tonight's meeting.
In conclusion, it is obvious that there is a proliferation of familiar literary motifs in “Young Goodman Brown.”
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Axelrod, Rise B. The St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 1835. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/goodman/goodmantext.html
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