In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” the reader finds several themes. These will be discussed in this essay.
Morse Peckham in “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism” explains what he interprets Hawthorne’s main theme to be:
Once the self has been redeemed from society it can be explored in its own terms, and for this purpose Hawthorne developed his peculiar use of emblematic allegory. . . . This technique, though Hawthorne’s is different from that of European writers, creates analogies between self and not-self, between personality and the worlds. . . .Henceforth Hawthorne’s theme is the redemption of the self through the acceptance and exploitation of what society terms the guilt of the individual but which to the Romantic is society’s guilt (92).
The interplay between the guilt of the individual, Goodman, and society’s guilt, underlies all of “Young Goodman Brown” from beginning to end.
In reading Hawthorne’s tales, Herman Melville in “Hawthorne and His Mosses” (in Literary World, August 17, 24, 1850) makes discoveries relevant to the themes:
Where Hawthorne is known, he seems to be deemed a pleasant writer, with a pleasant style,--a sequestered, harmless man, from whom any deep and weighty thing would hardly be anticipated:--a man who means no meanings. But there is no man, in whom humor and love, like mountain peaks, soar to such a rapt height, as to receive the irradiations of the upper skies;--there is no man in whom humor and love are developed in that high form called genius; no such man can exist without also possessing, as the indispensable complement of these, a great, deep intellect, which drops down...
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...“The Return into Time: Hawthorne.” 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.
Melville, Herman. “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” The Literary World August 17, 24, 1850. http://eldred.ne.mediaone.net/nh/hahm.html
Peckham, Morse. “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Swisher, Clarice. “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” In Readings on Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Clarice Swisher. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1996.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.
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