This essay intends to show that the compulsion toward evil indicated in the tale “Young Goodman Brown,” on the part of not only the main characters but also the townspeople at large (in other words “the whole world”) is contained in many of Hawthorne’s tales, and it is an incorrect notion.
Nathaniel Hawthorne used compulsion as a theme not only in this short story but in others as well. Consider the comments of Frederick C. Crews in “The Logic of Compulsion in ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’:
Yet a scrupulous examination of the main character’s motives reveals that Hawthorne has approached his subject on a deeper level than the ethical – that he has not asked what someone in a certain predicament should do, but rather how a man may become the victim of unconscious hypocrisies over which he has no ethical control at all. Indeed, the working-out of the plot is strictly dependent, not on a religious attitude of Hawthorne’s, but on an amazingly rigid logic of unconscious compulsion [italics mine] in the protagonist. . . . in nearly all Hawthorne’s tales, I would maintain, the moral “message’ is a secondary element.
In Salem village that fateful night when the young Puritan husband was departing home for the night, he exchanged “a parting kiss with his young wife.” The wind was playing with “the pink ribbons of her cap.” Literary critic Wagenknecht surveys some of the critical interpretation relative to these ribbons on Faith’s cap and how they convey a message from Hawthorne:
Mathews finds the pastel of infancy in pink, but since pink is a color intermediate between red and white, William V. Davis prefers to take it as suggesting “neither total deprav...
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Crews, Frederick C. “The Logic of Compulsion in ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’: In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc.,1959. 247-56.
Lang, H.J.. “How Ambiguous is Hawthorne?” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Leavis, Q.D. “Hawthorne as Poet.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.
Martin, Terence “Six Tales.” In Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1965.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.
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