In "Young Goodman Brown." Nathaniel Hawthorne considers the question of good and evil, suggesting that true evil is judging and condemning others for sin without looking at one's own sinfulness. He examines the idea that sin is part of being human and there is no escape from it.
Of the many symbols he uses in this story, each has a profound meaning. They represent good and evil in the constant struggle of a young innocent man whose faith is being tested. As the story begins, Young Goodman Brown bids farewell to his young wife "Faith, as [she] was aptly named" (211). When she " ...thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap" we associate the purity of "Faith" and the "pink ribbons" as a sign of the innocence and goodness of the town he is leaving behind (211). As he continues "on his present evil purpose" he sets off at sunset to enter the forest (212). A place "darkened by all the gloomiest trees," unknown territory, and a place where "there may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," with this we know the forest represents evil and sinfulness (212).
His decision to enter the forest and leave his "Faith" behind is the first decision, of many, between good and evil that he must make. After entering the forest he meets a traveler whom he later finds out is the devil. He is carrying a staff representing evil, "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" (213). When the traveler offers his staff to Young Goodman Brown he resists by replying, "having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose to return whence I cam...
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...the forest ultimately causes him to believe that he is better than everyone else and he disassociate himself from all those in the town as he judges them as being sinners. He becomes "a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man..." after his journey when he commits the ultimate sin of judging and condemning others without looking at one's own sinfulness. In the end "they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom (221).
Works Cited and Consulted
Benoit, Raymond. "'Young Goodman Brown': The Second Time Around." The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 19 (Spring 1993): 18-21.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc.,1989.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.
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