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I believe it is a dream or nightmare for Brown, one that he will never be able to deal with. One wonders how Brown's townsfolk deal with their sins. Do they repress them or just keep them hid from others? Through time, Brown learns he is not alone when it comes to dealing with good and evil. Isn't he just dealing with good? Or is it the connection between good and evil that bugs him? His own wife, Faith, is bothered with symptoms: "a lone woman is troubled with such dreams." Brown mentions, "She talks of dreams, too," which is a somewhat reassuring statement for him. This seems to confirm the notion that his "journey" is a fabrication of his unconscious (a dream) and that his wife has similar problems.
It's quite ironic that her name is Faith, which seems to be the very thing that she is lacking. Also, Brown is caught offguard when he sees the "journeyman" mingle with Goody Cloyse. He comments: "that old woman taught me my catechism"; such a respectable woman is talking to evil. We are also told of how Brown's family wasn't as wholesome as he believed. His grandfather lashed a Quaker woman while his father set fire to an Indian village. How did these men deal with their actions? I can remember reading about Puritans who used to whip themselves for their sins. This torment can exhaust you to a physical numbness but the sin is still in your mind. Through it all, I wonder about all the hell people were put through, during this time period, for acts that were deemed unacceptable
I really like the symbolism in this story.
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I also noticed the cycle of emotions that Brown goes through during the journey. Initially, he is very worried. He thinks about Faith and wishes that he could stay with her. He then seems to be fine until he meets his fellow-traveller in the forest. Here, he begins to show denial and frustration. He denounces things he once believed so strongly. He actually witnesses the ugly truths unfold as more acquaintances pass around him in the dreary forest. This is very important because it shocks the hell out of him. He is certain that he's a good Christian boy, but now he questions his faith. "He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him." This is a tender breaking point. He's beaten up a bit but still has a shred of hope: "I will yet stand firm against the devil!" cried Mr. Brown.
However, things take a turn for the worse. Brown becomes fully dismantled when he sees his beloved wife Faith. He can't handle this and he snaps. "My Faith is gone! There is no good on Earth; and sin is but a name." Brown takes off through the forest while Hawthorne gives us great imagery (I love this part). He uses phrases like "maddened with despair; he seemed to fly than walk or run; the road grew wilder and drearier; rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil." As he "flys," he hears frightful noises "as if Nature were laughing him to scorn." He is described as a demoniac with fiendish features and frenzied gestures as he cries out throughout the path. Now, does this sound like a broken man?
Yes, but for Brown, it is now over. He can now pick up the pieces. But is he really able to? I question that he was ever able to resolve this dilemma and that the journey traumatized him. It seems that he becomes a bitter man since his death is mentioned in unkind terms. "Goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom." With Hawthorne's description, it appears true. I really liked this story because it had a profound openness that made use of the imagination. Everything isn't known which leads us to different, interesting conclusions.