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Critical Analysis of Young Goodman Brown
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story of Young Goodman Brown is a reflection of the Puritan faith as well as man’s conflict between good and evil. This analysis will emphasize on the theme of Young Goodman Brown as well Hawthorne’s usage of symbolism and allegories throughout the story.
Literary critic D.M. McKeithan says that the theme of the story is sin and the terrible effect sin has on mankind. McKeithan also believes that the theme to Hawthorne’s; Young Goodman Brown, is based on the ability that evil has to persuade man to do wrong and the falseness of man’s virtues. The protagonist in the story, Brown, journeyed in the woods where he discovered that his Puritan community is not virtuous. Brown discovered that the entire community including his wife, whom is portrayed as being pure, indulges in sin and therefore Brown’s life turns dark due to his loss of hope. Literary critic Mark Van Doren states:
“Young Goodman Brown'; means exactly what it says, namely that its hero left his pretty young wife one evening … to walk by himself in a primitive New England woods, the Devil’s territory,…and either to dream or actually to experience (Hawthorne will not say) the discovery that evil exist in every human heart…Brown is changed. He thinks there is no good on earth…Brown, waking from his dream, if it was a dream,…sees evil even where it is not…He had stumbled upon that “mystery of sin'; which, rightly understood, provides the only sane and cheerful view of life there is. Understand in Brown’s fashion, if darkens and sours the world, withering hope and charity, and perverting whatever is truly good until it looks like evil at its worst: like blasphemy and hypocrisy. (Van Doren 234)
McKeithan says that Hawthorne is saying that in every human heart there is sin, but the story does not emphasize on sin alone, it emphasizes on the effects of sin. McKeithan states that to interpret Young Goodman Brown, the reader must make the distinction between sin and the effects of sin.
Literary critic David Levin says that Brown allows the Devil’s statements about the persecution of Indians and the Quakers allows him to accept the false statements of the Devil. Therefore Brown fails to distinguish the difference between a single person and actions of people as a whole. Levin says that Hawthorne’s way of writing Young Goodman Brown gives a clear interpretation of the meaning.
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Nathaniel Hawthorne uses symbolism throughout the story of Young Goodman Brown. Thomas Walsh says that Hawthorne uses a threefold symbolic pattern. The first symbol used in the story is Young Goodman Brown’s wife for three months, Faith. Faith represents faith in mankind as well as religious faith. The journey taken by Brown is symbolic to an inward journey to the depths of the human heart. Walsh says that the third symbolic instrument used in the story is the devil, which represents the evil side of Brown.
McKeithan says that Faith symbolizes religious faith, and before Brown can be totally loyal to Faith, he must indulge in sin once more. As Brown travels further away from the physical Faith, Brown gets further away from his faith in the goodness of mankind. The text states that Brown thought of Faith as a blessed angel on earth and said, “After this night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.'; When Brown met up with the devil he explained that he was late because Faith held him back awhile. As Brown continued to journey deeper into the forest, he felt ashamed of what he was doing to Faith. During the journey in the woods Brown looked towards the darkened sky in doubt that heaven existed. The stars in the sky brightened it and Connolly says that the stars are symbolic of the faint hope that Brown still possesses. Brown then says; “With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil.';(Hawthorne 272) Then a cloud, symbolic of evil, covers the stars and Young Goodman Brown’s hope. As Brown lifted up his arms to pray, the pink ribbons worn by Faith fell to the ground. Connolly says that the pink ribbons worn by Faith, symbolizes youth and joy. When the ribbons fell to the ground, Brown is left to believe that his Faith has failed him.
Walsh states that the second symbol in, “Young Goodman Brown';, is Brown’s journey into the woods. Brown’s journey into the dark woods is said to be parallel to depths of his soul. The gloomy trees and the dark path, which closed behind him as he continued on the path, symbolized what he was doing. Brown was traveling down the path leading to loneliness and despair. Walsh says that the trees that are closing immediately after he passes them symbolize the evil closing off his escape. Brown then realizes that his journey is in fact hopeless. The forest is related to the devil’s power that continues to grow over Young Goodman Brown’s soul. As Brown traveled deeper into the forest, a dark cloud covered the sky. The blackened cloud symbolizes Brown’s soul, which by now is tormented by evil.
Walsh states that the third major symbol in Young Goodman Brown, is the dark man that he meets in the forest. The dark man is said to represent Brown’s dark side of his soul. The dark man informs Brown of the terrible things that his family has done in the past, which causes him to doubt the good in man. Walsh states that:
The symbolic representation of such increasing doubts is in the sequence with the devil. The devil is Brown, father, and grandfather all rolled into one, the exact counterpart of Faith, Brown’s heavenly side. He is Brown’s darker side, which believes that evil is the nature of man. (Walsh 240)
In conclusion to this critical analysis, I have used criticism in emphasizing on Hawthorne’s usage of theme and symbolism in the story of Young Goodman Brown. Hawthorne used these literary tools in expressing the Puritan faith and falseness in it. According to Miller, Young Goodman Brown is a representation of all mankind.