Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown - Goody Cloyse and Catechetical Ministry

Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown - Goody Cloyse and Catechetical Ministry

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“Young Goodman Brown,” Goody Cloyse and Catechetical Ministry

      This essay intends to compare the author’s disparaging slur of Goody Cloyse, Puritan catechism teacher, Deacon Gookin and the minister – all of whom are catechists - in “Young Goodman Brown,” with “In Support of Catechetical Ministry - A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops” from June of 2000.


The influence of Puritan religion, culture and education is a common topic in Nathaniel Hawthorne's works. Growing up, Hawthorne could not escape the influence of Puritan society, not only from residing with his father's devout Puritan family as a child but also due to his study of his own family history.  The first of his ancestors, William Hathorne, is described in Hawthorne's "The Custom House" as arriving with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 "with his Bible and his sword" (26). A further connection can also be seen in his more notable ancestor John Hathorne, who exemplified the level of zealousness in Puritanism with his role as persecutor in the Salem Witch Trials. The study of his own family from the establishment of the Bay Colony to the Second Great Awakening of his own time parallels the issues brought forth in "Young Goodman Brown."  In looking into the history of early Puritan society, Hawthorne is able to discuss the merits and consequences of such zeal, especially the Puritan Catechism of John Cotton, and the repercussions of The Salem Witch trials.  Hawthorne sets “Young Goodman Brown” into a context of Puritan rigidity and self-doubt to allow his contemporary readers to see the consequences of such a system of belief.


Hawthorne’s tale places the newly wed Puritan Brown in a situation, where he has agreed with an evil character to participate in a coven, a witch’s ceremony, a devil-worship liturgy. The experience he has at this liturgy easily translates into the dream allegory of Hawthorne’s work and allows the author to use Puritan doctrine and the history of Salem to argue the merits and consequences of the belief in man’s total moral depravity. As Benjamin Franklin V states in "Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism," Hawthorne used John Cotton's Milk for Babes as the education source of Goodman Brown.  It was the Puritan belief that man must be instructed to realize his own depravity, and therefore at childhood the education began. The child was taught that he was”conceived in sin, and born in iniquity” (70).

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And this theme of inborn sin permeates “Young Goodman Brown,” even to the extent of implicating a minister, deacons, and Goody Cloyse, a Salem teacher of catechism. And this essay is essentially about these religious people and their vocation.


The tale “Young Goodman Brown” takes place in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem village:  It was “the center of the witchcraft delusion, in the witching times of 1692, and it shows the populace of Salem Village, those chief in authority as well as obscure young citizens like Brown, enticed by fiendish shapes into the frightful solitude of superstitious fear” (Abel 133). Some of these are unfortunately ministers, deacons and a local catechism teacher, Goody Cloyse. As Goodman Brown starts to turn back towards home and leave the devil, the latter:


As he spoke, he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path, in whom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin.


Up to this point there has been a condemnation of the Puritan ministry only as it related to the family of Goodman. His father and grandfather had both been evil in their intolerance of non-Puritan beliefs. But with this passage we see the author issuing a general condemnation of all ministerial types, even old Goody Cloyse:


The traveller put forth his staff, and touched her withered neck with what seemed the serpent's tail.


"The devil!" screamed the pious old lady.


"Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?" observed the traveller, confronting her, and leaning on his writhing stick.


"Ah, forsooth, and is it your worship, indeed?" cried the good dame. "Yea, truly is it, and in the very image of my old gossip, Goodman Brown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is. But, would your worship believe it? my broomstick hath strangely disappeared, stolen, as I suspect, by that unhanged witch, Goody Cory, and that, too, when I was all anointed with

the juice of smallage and cinque-foil and wolf's-bane"-


"Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe," said the shape of old Goodman Brown.


"Ah, your worship knows the recipe," cried the old lady, cackling aloud. "So, as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting, and no horse to ride on, I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell me, there is a nice young man to be taken into communion tonight. But now your good worship will lend me your arm, and we shall be there in a twinkling."


"That can hardly be," answered her friend. "I may not spare you my arm, Goody Cloyse, but here is my staff, if you will."


So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to Egyptian Magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. He had cast up his eyes in astonishment, and looking down again, beheld neither Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow-traveller alone, who waited for him as calmly as if nothing had happened.


"That old woman taught me my catechism!" said the young man; and there was a world of meaning in this simple comment.


The above passage thoroughly condemns pious Goody with involvement in witchcraft and devil-worship in a big way. The following passages implicate the Puritan minister and Deacon Gookin:




It vexed him the more, because he could have sworn, were such a thing possible, that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along quietly, as they were wont to do, when bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council. While yet within hearing, one of the riders stopped to pluck a switch.


"Of the two, reverend Sir," said the voice like the deacon's, I had rather miss an ordination-dinner than tonight's meeting. They tell me that some of our community are to be here from Falmouth and beyond, and others from Connecticut and Rhode Island; besides several of the Indian powows, who, after their fashion, know almost as much deviltry as the best of us. Moreover, there is a goodly young woman to be taken into communion."


"Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!" replied the solemn old tones of the minister. "Spur up, or we shall be late. Nothing can be done, you know, until I get on the ground."


With this passage the entire corps of ministers of the catechism are implicated in evil in a very serious way – in devil-worship – the very contradiction of the most basic beliefs they preach, namely the Bible and Jesus Christ.


In defense of these maligned fellow Christians, let me present the true, enlightening, uplifting aspect of the character of most ministerial types involved with the catechism, as taken from “In Support of Catechetical Ministry - A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops” from June of 2000:


Some—bishops, priests, and deacons—exercise catechetical ministry by ordination. Others participate in this responsibility through a commissioning to carry out a specific catechetical activity.


We live in an increasingly secular and materialistic society, which is often at odds with our Christian messages and values. Religious instruction and catechesis compete against entertainment and sports for time in people's busy lives.


We remember and give thanks for all those who have embraced the mission of catechesis throughout the ages. Through their efforts—inspired by the Holy Spirit—the Catholic faith has been handed on from generation to generation; we remember particularly those who catechized us, especially our parents and our families. In addition, we remember our ancestors in faith: the saints and martyrs whose lives continue to inspire our faith, and those countless women and men who gave of themselves as catechists so that others might believe.


. . . . we celebrate that the Church "exists in order to evangelize". It is only through the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ that the hungers of people's hearts are satisfied.


When catechesis calls people to discipleship, they more readily take on the mission of the Church in all areas of their lives. "If catechesis is done well, Christians will be eager to bear witness to their faith, to hand it on to their children, to make it known to others, and to serve the human community in every way"


We celebrate the catechesis done in people's original language of faith and the ways in which gifted catechists have incorporated the religious devotions and traditions with which a culture binds its people to God. We celebrate the expressions of faith made through the arts. The incorporation of such artistic images, music, song, and performance in catechesis provides further avenues to touch the heart and spirit of the human person with the Word of God.


Because effective catechesis depends so heavily on human effort—on professional preparation, planning, performance, and evaluation; on personal qualities and commitments; and especially on the faith, hope, and love of catechists—we celebrate and express our deepest gratitude for the many thousands of persons who serve the Church as catechists. Through their personal efforts at evangelization, they plant the seeds of faith in people of all ages . . . . We are aware of the efforts catechists make to be faithful instruments of God's Word and the personal sacrifices they make to teach in the name of Christ and his Church; we give thanks to God for their efforts.


The perverted view of the ministers of the catechism as presented by Hawthorne is simply incomprehensible to many readers because it runs totally counter to their experience. Perhaps the statement by the US Catholic Bishops on the subject of catechetical ministry will rectify and restore a degraded vocation.




Abel, Darrel.  The Moral Picturesque:  Studies in Hawthorne’s Fiction.  Indiana:  Purdue UP, 1988.


Franklin, Benjamin V.  “Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism.”  ESQ  40  (1994):  67-88.


Grayson, Robert C.  "Curdled Milk for Babes: The Role of the Catechism in 'Young Goodman Brown.'"  The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 16 (Spring 1990): 1-5.


Murfin, Ross C.  “Introduction: The Biographical and Historical Background.”  Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter.  Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.


Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Doubleday and Co., Inc.,1959.


US Conference of Catholic Bishops. “In Support of Catechetical Ministry-A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops.” June, 2000. http://www.nccbuscc.org/education/catechetics/support.htm
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