Formalistic Approach to Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

Formalistic Approach to Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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Formalistic Approach to Young Goodman Brown


The Formalistic Approach can be found throughout "Young Goodman Brown," a short story written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Formalistic Approach is one of the most frequently used approaches. It concentrates on the concepts of form, tension, image, and symbol; as well as point of view, irony, and paradox. These styles appear throughout the story. Form in the past has meant what is now known as external form, the way one identifies the work. This type of form is usually associated with poetry. Organic form is important to critics. "Emphasis on organicism is not just in literary forms but in a broader, philosophical context, where the world itself is organic..." Point of view is another device in the Formalistic Approach. Point of view, " preserves the internal form, the organic quality of the work." (Handbook pg.87) Tension, irony, and paradox are "the resolution of opposites. " "The basic terms -tension, irony, and paradox- are often nearly indistinguishable, so closely do they work together."(Handbook pg. 90) "A term introduced by Allen Tate, meaning the integral unity that results from the successful resolution of the conflicts of abstraction and concreteness..." (Handbook pg. 90)


Ambiguity is also present in "Young Goodman Brown." "Paradoxical as it may seem, we suggest that ambiguity is a formal device in 'Young Goodman Brown'."(Handbook pg.97) One way to see ambiguity in the work, as suggested by the Handbook of Critical Approaches, is to trace the relationships of light and dark. The daylight and darkness of the town and the (dark) forest is important.


"Young Goodman Brown" is a story that is easily understood. The broad use of symbolism jumps out to the reader making the story fun and interesting, while displaying the meaning and ironic twists of events. In "Young Goodman Brown," the "image" almost immediately takes on symbolic qualities. For example, the pink ribbons in the hair of Faith, Brown's wife. This is a reference to and has the same meaning as Hester Prynne's scarlet "A". Another good example of ambiguity and symbolism is the fact that Faith's ribbons are pink, an in between color. Red is a symbol of evil or being provocative and white is a symbol of purity and innocence. "Like the admixture of light and dark in the tale... the ribbons are neither red nor white. They are somewhere between: they are ambiguity objectified.

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" (Handbook pg.98) It's ironic and symbolic that Young Goodman Brown's wife's name is Faith because he also looses his faith in the story. "My Faith is gone!" (Handbook pg. 382) 


Allusion is found throughout the story. It is obvious in many ways. "My love and my Faith," (Handbook pg.375) and "Poor little Faith," (Handbook pg. 375) not only explains his sorrow at leaving his wife but also alludes to his feelings about the fate of his faith. The quotes "Faith kept me back awhile,"(handbook pg.376) and "why should I quit my Faith and go after Goody Cloyse,"(Handbook pg. 380) show his guilt and hesitance not only for his wife, as he states, but for his faith. There is a definite double meaning to most words and all of the names in the story. Allusions to faith in the story provide an evident pattern to clearly suggest the virtues of hope and love. Similarly there are allusions to the opposites of these: doubt, despair and hatred.


The limitations on the Formalistic Approach have recently been on lyric poetry (Handbook pg. 122) but I used it anyway. The story of "Young Goodman Brown" was very easy to read using the Formalistic Approach. This technique made the reading and the meaning behind it understandable. I was able to identify the different styles used and implied. The easiest concept to identify with was symbolism. I found that the Formalistic Approach is a worthwhile approach to reading and was quite helpful with the story, "Young Goodman Brown." I enjoyed this story all the more after analyzing it using the Formalistic Approach.

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