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"Young Goodman Brown" (1835) is a short story by Americanmarker writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story takes place in Puritan New Englandmarker, a common setting for Hawthorne's works, and addresses one of his common themes: the conflict between good and evil in human nature and, in particular, the problem of public goodness and private wickedness.

Plot summary

The story begins at sunset in the late 17th century Salem, Massachusettsmarker, with the young Goodman Brown leaving his home and Faith, his wife of three months, to meet with a mysterious figure deep in the forest. As he and this mysterious figure meet and proceed further into the dark forest, it is broadly hinted that Goodman Brown's traveling companion is, in fact, the Devil, and that the purpose of their journey is to join in an unspecified but obviously unholy ritual. Goodman Brown wavers and expresses reluctance, not only once but several times, yet they continue on. As their journey continues Brown discovers others also proceeding to the meeting, many of them his townsfolk whom he had considered exemplary Christians, including his minister and deacon and the woman who taught him his catechism. He is astonished and disheartened and determines, once again, to turn back. But then he hears his wife's voice and realizes that she is one of the ones who is to be initiated at the meeting. Recognizing that he has lost his Faith (in both senses), he now resolves to carry out his original intention and enthusiastically joins the procession.

At the ceremony, which is carried out at a crude, flame-lit rocky altar in a clearing deep in the forest, the new converts are called to come forth. He and Faith approach the altar and, as they are about to be anointed in blood to seal their alliance with wickedness, he cries out to Faith to look to heaven and resist. In the next instant he finds himself standing alone in the forest, next to the cold, wet rock.

Arriving back in Salem the next morning, Goodman Brown is uncertain whether his experience was real or only a dream, but he is nevertheless deeply shaken. His view of his neighbors is distorted by his memories of that night. He lives out his days an embittered and suspicious cynical man, wary of everyone around him, including his wife Faith. The story concludes with this dismal statement:
"And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave...they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom."


Analysis

"Young Goodman Brown" is often generalized as an allegory about the discovery of evil, the true nature of humanity. The story is set during the Salem witch trials, during which Hawthorne's great-great grandfather John Hathorne played a role as judge. Hawthorne, for years plagued by guilt from his ancestor's role, vindicates his grandfather by featuring two fictional victims of the witch trials who really were witches and not merely innocent victims of the witch-hunt. It was also this ancestral guilt that inspired Hawthorne to change his family's name, adding a "w" in his early twenties, shortly after graduating from college.

Nathaniel Hawthorne often based his novels and short stories on events that occurred in the 17th century. One of his favorite settings that reoccur in several of his works was that of New England, especially Salem, Massachusetts, during the 1600s. In order to best convey the setting in his work, he would often use various literary techniques. For example, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses specific diction, or colloquial expressions, to enhance the setting in his short story, "Young Goodman Brown".

Throughout the piece, women are often called "Goody" and men are labeled with the honorific "Goodman". One example would be the main character Goodman Brown and one of the female characters, Goody Cloyse. Such titles are archaic today but were common forms of address in early 17th century New England. Another example of Puritan dialect is the quote, "prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeared of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband".

Historicizing is an important technique that Hawthorne likes to employ. Yet again, the dialect in which Hawthorne uses is critical to this technique. Without the Puritan dialect, "Young Goodman Brown" loses much of the historical significance that Hawthorne is trying to get across. Although it is explicitly stated the short story takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, the time in which it takes place is not stated. However, by using such Puritanical dialect throughout the piece, the reader can deduce that the setting was sometime during the 17th or 18th century. Furthermore, Hawthorne’s use of dialect truly propels the reader into the world of Goodman Brown and helps them to gain a better insight into the setting.

Nathaniel Hawthorne is known in his writings for his criticism of the teachings of the Puritans. Young Goodman Brown is no different as it seeks to expose his perceived hypocrisy in Puritan doctrine. The plot and textual references in Young Goodman Brown reveal the Puritans as being like "a city upon a hill" as John Winthrop said, a founder of Puritanism, and wanting to be seen that way as good, holy men. However, their doctrine teaches that all men are inherently evil and they strive to cause each person to come to terms with this and realize their sinful nature. This hypocrisy that Hawthorne presents in his story is how he reflects on the hypocritical teachings of the Puritans. They taught that man was inherently evil in nature much in accordance to Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes. They presented themselves as pure, holy, righteous, moral people when, according to their very own teachings, they were beings fueled by sin and evil.

Critical response and impact

Herman Melville said "Young Goodman Brown" was "as deep as Dante" and Henry James called it a "magnificent little romance". Hawthorne himself believed the story made no more impact than any of his tales. Years later he wrote, "These stories were published... in Magazines and Annuals, extending over a period of ten or twelve years, and comprising the whole of the writer's young manhood, without making (so far as he has ever been aware) the slightest impression on the public." Contemporary critic Edgar Allan Poe disagreed, referring to Hawthorne's short stories as "the products of a truly imaginative intellect".

References

  1. Bell, Michael Davitt. Hawthorne and the Historical Romance of New England. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1971: 77. ISBN 0-691-06136-X
  2. Mellow, James R. Hawthorne in His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980: 60. ISBN 0-395-27602-0
  3. McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2004: 18. ISBN 0802117767.
  4. McCabe, Michael E. The Consequences of Puritan Depravity and Distrust as Historical Context for Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown". American Literature Research and Analysis Web Site
  5. English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Guide to better Writing: reading the Text
  6. Hawthorne, 3
  7. McCabe, Michael E. The Consequences of Puritan Depravity and Distrust as Historical Context for Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown." American Literature Research and Analysis Web Site
  8. Miller, Edwin Haviland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991: 119. ISBN 0877453322.
  9. McFarland, Philip. Hawthorne in Concord. New York: Grove Press, 2004: 22. ISBN 0802117767.
  10. Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998: 334. ISBN 0801857309.


  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” A Portable Anthology. Ed. Janet Gardner.Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. 3-13.


  • Bell, Millicent. New Essay’s on Hawthorne’s Major Tales. Cambridge University press. Boston, Ma: 1993.


  • Johnson, Claudia. Studies in short fiction 11(1974):200-03.


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