This essay will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” to determine the central conflict in the tale, its climax and partial resolution, using the essays of literary critics to help in this interpretation.
In my opinion, the central conflict in the tale is an internal one - the conflict in Goodman Brown between joining the ranks of the devil and remaining good, and the extension of this conflict to the world at large represented by the villagers of Salem.
It is a difficult personal journey for Young Goodman Brown, a young Puritan resident of Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1600’s to say goodbye to Faith on that fateful night and to keep a prior commitment made with an evil character (the devil) in the woods. As he travels through the forest to fulfill his personal desire: to experience evil, to indulge in devil-worship, to become a witch - whatever this strange nocturnal affair might involve, all the while he is repeatedly thinking about the “good” things he is leaving behind at church, at home (his wife Faith), and at Salem village. This internal conflict ultimately destroys the Young Goodman Brown who existed prior to the visit to the woods, and creates a new, cynical, faith-less man of gloomy, distrustful disposition.
This interpretation of the central conflict differs from that offered by Terence Martin in Nathaniel Hawthorne:
His journey into the forest is best defined as a kind of general, indeterminate [my italics] allegory, representing man’s irrational drive to leave faith, home, and security temporarily behind, for whatever individual reason, and to take a chance with one more errand onto the wilder s...
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...sts to Faith and to Salem to the extent that he is able to live with both, he nevertheless has lost the inner peace and innocence he possessed prior to the intrusion of evil into his life.
“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.
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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