In Young Goodman Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne tells the tale of a man and his discovery of evil. Hawthorne’s primary concern is with evil and how it affects Young Goodman Brown. Through the use of tone and setting, Hawthorne portrays the nature of evil and the psychological effects it can have on man. He shows how discovering the existence of evil brings Brown to view the world in a cynical way. Brown learns the nature of evil and, therefore, feels surrounded by its presence constantly.
Hawthorne creates a serious and somber tone throughout much of the story. From the start, the audience gets a sense that Brown will go through relentless agony from the devilish stranger. His diction in the opening paragraphs is a good indicator of this. He uses words such as “melancholy”, “evil”, “dreary”, and “grave” to evoke a certain mood in the reader. There is little relief from this seriousness that would suggest that Hawthorne’s attitude about the story be hopeful. Brown’s attitude and actions portray a negative view of Salem and its people. He ponders the hypocrisy of the town as well as that of the Puritans. He examines the possibility that evil and corruption exist in a town that is supposedly characterized by piety and devout faith.
The story is set in seventeenth-century Salem, a time and place where sin and evil were greatly analyzed and feared. The townspeople, in their Puritan beliefs, were obsessed with the nature of sin and with finding ways to be rid of it altogether through purification of the soul. At times, people were thought to be possessed by the devil and to practice witchcraft. As punishment for these crimes, some were subjected to torturous acts or even horrible deaths. Thus, Hawthorne’s choice of setting is instrumental in the development of theme.
He uses contrast as a means to portray the village as good and the forest as bad. This adds significance to the fact that Brown begins his journey in the town and proceeds then to the forest. The use of imagery captures the appearance of the forest as well as lending a sense of foreboding towards the impending evil. Hawthorne says of Brown, “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by the gloomiest trees of the forest…It was all as lonely as it could be” (2208). Immediately following this description, Brown speculates that he may not be ...
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...rator describes Brown as “a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man…” (2215). He can no longer look upon his community with the same hopefulness he once had. He becomes cynical of his surroundings and lives his life accordingly. His discovery of evil results in his loss of grips with humanity. He comes to believe there is evil in all people and is unable to accept it. He grows old with contempt for his former idols, and never again is he able to conceive of the idea that life is pure, grand, and good. At his funeral, his family has nothing encouraging to put on his grave, and neighbors do not even bother to attend. Thus, he is depicted, even in death, as an individual unable to find happiness in his own family and friends.
As stated earlier, Hawthorne’s goal is to show the discovery of evil can lead one to utter desperation and cynicism. Brown is the medium through which he is able to achieve this goal. He is successful in teaching his audience a moral lesson; which is that in denying the idea that good exists and is capable of overpowering evil, Brown has committed the worst sin of all. Bereft of spiritual faith, “his dying hour was gloom” (2216).
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