The Allegorical Young Goodman Brown

The Allegorical Young Goodman Brown

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The Allegorical Young Goodman Brown

The story about Young Goodman Brown centers around the allegory of a man pitted against his past and his desires to reach beyond that which his benighted heaven would put before him. The allegory is Christian due to the references in Young Goodman Brown to the devil and Satan; it only seems logical that the crux of the story is based upon the religious imagery of Hawthorne's New England in the times of Salem and active religious strife. The beginning of the story mentions the goodman's wife, Faith. The names of the characters alone serve as an indication of what Hawthorne puts as an obvious religious allegory with the goodman and faith soon to be pitted against an unspeakable evil. The goodman even swears that after this night he will "cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven." The devil awaits Young Goodman Brown as he states that the clock of the old south was striking but a few minutes past (Hawthorne is stating how quickly the devil can move--intensifying the airs of the preternatural). Young Goodman Brown replies to the devil that faith was keeping him away--Hawthorne's play on words should not be overlooked as this also leads to the realization that a man (a good one) can deal with the devil and possibly win.

At this stage in the story the reader still has hope for the goodman who must now deal with what he feels is his duty honor-bound. A "good man" in Hawthorne's day was a person who came from a proper lineage. This very lineage Hawthorne exploits as he begins the goodman's discourse with the devil. The goodman claims that he is from a family of good men that have never been into the forest on such an errand to meet the devil; Hawthorne depends upon this defense to criticize the patriarchal lineage upon which a person places his worth. This view is quickly derailed as the devil himself states that all of his ancestors were with him as they tortured women in Salem or burned to the ground Indian villages, and afterwards the devil and his ancestors would go for a friendly walk. Hawthorne has derided the institution of Young Goodman Brown's lineage, and his society's view of honor by pointing to some simple facts. The question remains as to whom or what is the devil.

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If the devil points to the painful truth of the past and the reality of people in the present, is this the allegorical face of evil? Or is Hawthorne playing upon the reader's disposition to see the devil as evil and stand next to the "good man" and his fate?

Either way the story forces an evaluation of the values of Puritan New England. When Young Goodman Brown decides to not follow the devil into the world of darkness, the role reversal of the allegorical subplot begins. The devil has apparently infested all of the Puritan's souls with sin (at least to the eyes of Young Goodman Brown after he discovers that all of the town has met the devil and is on friendly terms with him). This leads to Young Goodman Brown being described as a lunatic who cannot discern his religious fanaticism from reality. This is Hawthorne's comment upon the religious communities of his time, like his Scarlet Letter; the Puritans with their gift of free religion had decided to insure that no diversity of opinion could be presented and also the community was seen as pure and rid of all external "evils". Hawthorne clearly shows that the evils are manifest in men's actions and not in men's ideologies or even their religions. We cannot lean on the crutch of religion, not when we are raping and killing to gain land or "purity".
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