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Deciphering a Passage from Young Goodman Brown
" Lo! There ye stand, my children…'" In the first line of this passage, the figure is trying to gain the trust of the people congregated around the alter. This figure, Satan, is standing before the citizens of Salem addressing them as 'my children' in order to lure them into a false belief in him as their savior. His deep, solemn, and almost sad tone commands sincerity and, seemingly, his feelings of sadness that their belief in God did not work out. 'His once angelic nature' is used to portray that he too was once a follower of God but also chose the road to evil in an effort to empathize with the people of Salem. 'Depending upon one another's hearts, ye had still hoped, that virtue were not all a dream,' was said by Satan to suggested he knew that some of the people of Salem desperately tried to believe that they could be saved and that there were another way other than through evil. Satan then cries, 'Now are ye undeceived! Evil is the nature of mankind.' This is to imply that he is wiping the sleep from people's eyes and it uncovering the truth- that evil is the only way- the natural way. Only through evil can the masses can be happy instead of through any other belief. He again welcomes the people standing before him into his evil kingdom through 'the communion of your race!'
"Young Goodman Brown" is a portrayal of one man who bids farewell to his wife, Faith, to undertake a secret journey into the night. He sets off on his way at sunset into a thick forest to rendez-vous with an old man who is to lead him to this secret deep in the woods, the secret being a meeting to welcome the people of Salem to Satan's evil kingdom. Goodman Brown, throughout the story, is in conflict with himself as to why he is doing this. He tries to turn back many times but is once again drawn to this inevitable journey by the old traveler. Once he arrives near the meeting, he hears Faith succumb to Satan and rushes to be with her. Goodman Brown then awakes in the forest and returns to Salem. He sees the people who had attended the fiend-worship and can only think evil thoughts of them and their hippocratic ways.
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One of the underlying motifs in the story is the constant portrayal of guilt by goodman Brown. 'Poor little Faith! What a wretch am I, to leave her on such an errand!' From the very beginning, he felt guilty for leaving Faith and, as the story progressed, so did his sense of guilt heighten. Many times on his journey he tried to turn back because of the pain of guilt, but every time, the old traveler reassured him to keep going. Goodman Brown's guilt grew stronger and stronger until the point when he heard Faith and knew she (it) was gone. He coped with the guilt by reassuring himself that other outstanding members of his community are partaking in the same evil journey to embrace Satan. Goodman Brown is also reassured by the old traveler that his father and grandfather before him have all taken the same journey as he is embarking upon. At the meeting he finds important and influential leaders of the community such as the minister, members of the legislature, his seemingly devote catechism teacher Goody Cloyse, and others, all embracing the devil.
Symbolism is used extensively to emphasize underlying themes throughout the story. The most blatant use of symbolism was the name of goodman Brown's wife. Faith was used in many ways to provide dual meaning to different passages in the story. Brown had said, 'Poor little Faith! What a wretch am I, to leave her on such an errand!' as he left Salem at the start of his journey. 'Faith kept me back a while' was used when the old traveler asked goodman Brown what kept him. Goodman Brown also proclaimed, 'With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will stand firm against the devil!' after overhearing a conversation between the minister and deacon Gookin about the evil gathering. There were more examples throughout the story, but any of these could mean what they are taken initially to say, or they can be interpreted replacing his wife's person with his faith toward God. Hawthorne constantly referred to Brown as goodman Brown and others such as Cloyse and Gookin as Goody Cloyse and deacon Gooking, but yet all of these people had taken in the devil. Even after goodman Brown's experience, he was still referred to as goodman which is not capitalized suggesting that it has the meaning of good man. This nickname is obviously untrue in the later of the story.
Many symbols of evil were also present within Hawthorne's story including the serpentine staff, the dark forest, and the use of Salem as the setting. The serpent staff held by the old traveler was mentioned frequently and offered to goodman Brown on more than one occasion. Serpents, especially in the past, were thought of as evil that which Brown was not ready to accept. The thick, dark forest which young Brown and the traveler wandered through symbolized the evil in which Brown was being led into, as was the onset of nightfall. As for Salem, this town is legendary for being plagued by evil witches and demon worshiping. It was also the sight for many witch hunts and hangings of innocent people.
The complete passage:
"`Lo! there ye stand, my children,' said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad, with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. `Depending upon one another's hearts, ye had still hoped, that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived! Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome, again, my children, to the communion of your race!'