Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown - The Fall of Man into Sin

Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown - The Fall of Man into Sin

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After reading this the first time, my first thought was "did this actually take place or did Brown just dream the whole thing?" Hawthorne purposely makes that fact ambiguous. He poses the same type of question in the end of the story. To me, this is appropriate. The story centers on evil being something hidden in this small town. The preacher goes about his praying, the old woman continues catechizing a little girl, etc. all after Brown has "witnessed" the witch meeting in the forest. By not being clear if this was a dream or not, Hawthorne supports the hidden nature that the people have in the story. He covers up the truth just as the village people hid their sinful life that Brown was witness to. This way, the story and the people in the village remain a mystery to the reader just as the truth remains a mystery to Brown.

Secondly, I noticed a lot of the re-reading papers on this story dealt with Faith as a character or Faith as a belief. (As Jennifer said, this story is a battle of faith and good and evil) To me, there is no escaping the fact that Faith is a representation of the "good" forces that oppose evil in the story. In the beginning, when Brown first leaves her behind, she tells him "God bless you" and "may you find all well when you return." Faith is about to be deserted for this meeting with evil in the woods. In Biblical terms, if you leave your faith behind, you may not find things the same when you try and come back to it. Brown also tells his evil partner "Faith kept me back awhile." Brown had to talk himself into meeting this person saying that after this one meeting he will follow faith to Heaven. His timid nature and willingness to go to Heaven (faith) delayed him just as much as his wife. After Brown has this meeting, Faith deserted falls into the hands of evil. He welcomes the devil when he finds his faith missing (sound familiar?) He finds a timid bit of hope when he asks where Faith is during the rituals he witnesses. At the last minute, Brown yells out to Faith to regard Heaven and resist temptation and at that moment the witch meeting dissolves.

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Faith is happy to see her husband and runs to him with open arms (just as in the Bible that when you finally regain faith you will be welcomed to Heaven with open arms). Brown is not happy to see her and turns away from Faith to regard the actions of others in the village. He is filled with doubt of others in the village and perhaps of himself after this meeting. Because of this, he can’t hear the songs of worship, he shrinks from Faith now all through life. When Goodman Brown went away from his Faith, he corrupted his life. He dies a "gloomy" death and never fully turns back to Faith. This to me is so classicaly religious it doesn’t even need this pitiful explanation I’ve tried to offer.

There is also the classic representation of the night and the deep, dark forest as a place of evil and temptation. We all know that only demons and goblins do their work at night and they usually do it in a dark, secluded place like the forest where humans can get lost and lose all faith. The forest becomes a real place of evil when the meeting starts…another classic example of witch stories. There are wild beasts, creaking trees, yells of Indians (who we all know were seen as savages during that time) and the faint toll of some bells. This sounds like a strange Halloween story to me. At any rate, we definitely have the setting for a story of temptation and evil.

Another thing that jumps out of this story is the bad guy’s staff. It is shaped like a snake and almost seems to come alive to Brown. My mind returns to Sunday school lessons of days past when someone had a staff that became a snake and Jesus was able to turn it back into a staff. Okay, that may not be exactly right but this definitely has a vague Biblical reference as well. Ironically it is this staff that leads Brown to the secret meeting in the woods. So, the devil and his staff have successfully gotten Brown to their meeting and it later destroys his life.

This story is a classic representation of the fall of man into sin. Brown loses Faith, never fully regains her and dies a gloomy death. If he had stayed home with his Faith, all this stuff would have never happened to him. He wouldn’t have any reason to doubt all the villagers and would have been able to enjoy life among them as he did before he discovered the secret meeting place. In short, don’t lose your Faith or you could fall into the hands of the Devil There’s a Sunday School lesson in there somewhere.

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