The theme is the “general concept or doctrine, whether implicit or asserted, which an imaginative work is designed to incorporate and make persuasive to the reader” (Abrams 170). The theme in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is explained in this essay, but it is not as obvious or apparent as the theme is in many literary works.
The reader begins to receive an inkling or clue regarding the theme when Goodman, having left his wife, Faith, all alone and melancholy, enters the woods and encounters a sinister type with him he has previously made an appointment for this particular evening:
As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveller . . . had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and would not have felt abashed at the governor's dinner-table, or in King William's court, were it possible that his affairs should call him thither. But the only thing about him, that could be fixed upon as remarkable, was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.
The evil nature of this individual is made manifest, and thus evil enters the story. From this point we can see in retrospect that evil entered the tale earlier, since Goodman practiced a deception on his wife regarding his “errand” on this night.
As the story progresses the reader sees the progression of evil: It, first of all, consumes the Puritan father and grandfather of the protagonist:
"Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family a...
... middle of paper ...
... which he must pay to live as a faith-directed individual in an evil world is steep. It causes distrust and gloom to spoil the inner tranquility which he once possessed before he had knowledge of the universal nature of evil.
Abrams, M. H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 1835. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/goodman/goodmantext.html
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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