Unmasking the Superficial Hierarchy of the Church in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

Unmasking the Superficial Hierarchy of the Church in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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In Young Goodman Brown, Hawthorne tells the story of a young man discovering man's true nature in a fantasized visit to hell. He encounters a world where everyone is equally evil, including the most "holy" of people. Hawthorne's hell is a parallel to the influence of the Church on the real world.

            In the story, Goodman Brown decides to embark on a night journey, with some kind of evil intentions. He is guided by a man who resembles his grandfather, and despite his hesitancy, proceeds to his destination. Brown is shocked to see religious figures along the way, who share the same evil intentions. He is driven to meet the end when he hears his wife Faith's voice calling out. She is his one strand of good that he struggles to hold on to; when he realizes she might be captured by evil, he fills with fear. At the end is their meeting with the devil-figure, where he calls all people to come together under evil.

            Hawthorne's depiction of the devil-figure is far from harsh, rather, he is described as more of a father-figure, addressing the congregation as his children. The character is introduced as having "no slight similitude...to some grave divine of the New-England churches." The figure remains rather ambiguous, he does not have a specific identity. He is constantly referred to as a dark figure, as sort of shadow amongst the flames. In one sentence, Hawthorne uses the words "deep," "solemn," and "almost sad" to describe the figure's manner. The figure is addressing his congregation with pity and remorse, "as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our race." Using the word "angelic" softens the image of the devil-figure.

            The devil's speech asks the people to awaken to the reality that virtue isn't possible, that Evil is man's true nature. By welcoming them to the "communion of your race" he emphasizes that people are unified under the fact that everyone is evil. The devil figure is like a puritan minister trying to tell everyone that they are evil, but he tells them to accept it, that "Evil must be your only happiness." People can live happily if they only realize that evil is the way we are meant to be, trying to fight it is futile. The congregation accepts his welcome "in one cry of despair and triumph.

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" They feel triumphant eventhough truly they are condemning themselves.

Throughout the story, emphasis is given on the presence of religious figures. They also seem to be the most powerful ones, luring Brown further into the evil forest. Brown is most taken aback from realizing that those whom he had looked up to as holier people were all in hell, mingling with the rest of the knowingly "bad" commoners. Hawthorne emphasizes this event as a gathering of all people-a "communion of the race," as the devil calls it. Everyone is equal. On p.582, Brown observes, "It was strange to see, that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints." Hawthorne makes the point that there are no superiors in this world. Everyone "shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt." (p.583)

When Brown returns from his journey, he holds contempt for everyone, including his wife, Faith. He looks at the church in scorn, knowing that the minister and deacon are full of lies, as they are sinners themselves. He can not even trust his wife anymore. In the last sentence of the story, we see that Brown dies alone, a miserable man: "they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom."

            Hawthorne makes clear the Puritan paradox of believing that everyone is evil, yet giving power and superiority to supposed "divine" religious men. His hell is and unmasking of the superficial hierarchy of good that the Church created. But at the same time, he is not condemning the whole world as evil, rather, pointing out that the concept of "Evil" as created by the church is ridiculous. Brown returns and is miserable. Perhaps Hawthorne was trying to point out that people need not judge one another because everyone is committing the same types of "sins." Brown coming back with the idea that everyone was evil led him to be very unhappy. The Church can be like the devil, telling us people are evil and that we should look down upon some, yet almost worship others. In Hawthorne's hell, the Puritanical condemnation of people is taken to the extreme, and thus proven nonsensical.
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