Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Summary and Analysis

Date:  2021-03-05 10:45:58
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Introduction

Young Goodman Brown’s plot begins at sundown in Salem Village in Massachusetts, that is the Young Goodman Brown’s setting, when Goodman Brown leaves his wife, Faith for an unknown mission in the forest. Faith pleads with Brown to stay with her but he insists on completing the journey at night. In the forest, where young Goodman Brown is headed after sunset, Brown meets an older man who is dressed in a similar manner as he is who was bearing a physical resemblance to him (Hawthorne, 1835). The man was carrying a black serpent-shaped rod. The two meet an older woman, Goody Cloyse. Brown knew Clouse as a boy and she taught him catechism. She complains to him about walking with a stranger and accepts his snake rod and proceeds with her destination.

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Other townspeople populated the woods that night traveling in the same direction as Brown. When he hears the voice of his wife in the trees, he calls out her name but she does not answer. He then flies through the forest using a maple staff fashioned by the stranger. He then arrives at a clearing at midnight to find people assembled. At the cemetery, the newest acolytes, Brown and Faith are presented. They are the only townspeople that have not been initiated. Brown calls to heavens to resist the initiation and the scene instantly vanishes. So, what does Goodman Brown discover in the forest? When he arrives back home the following morning, Brown is unsure if the events that took place in the previous night are real or a dream but he is profoundly shaken, and his perception that he resides in a Christian community is distorted. He loses faith in his wife along with the entire humanity. He lives his life as a suspicious and embittered cynic worrying about every person around him. The story concludes by sharing information about his death and burial since the community had no hopeful sentiments on his grave since his dying hours was pessimistic (Hawthorne, 1835).

Young Goodman Brown’s Allegory and Structure

This story takes a standard chronological approach to narration for short stories where very little flashbacks are used as the event is reported in real time. This story can be read as an allegory centering on lures every person faces. Generally it is made up of the fundamental list of ingredients of a story arranged in a chronological order, namely initial situation, conflict, problems, climax, uncertainty, ending, and conclusion.

Type of story

This story is an allegory due to its metaphorical approach to relaying communication. This story is therefore fictional but developed to relay a meaning that is outside the narrative implying that it is a fable since a fable is a story with a moral lesson developed from events that never happened. Specifically, the author gives his characters names that depict wholesome and pure beliefs such as Faith and Young Goodman Brown which serve as paradoxical as the story concludes. Therefore this story aims to critique Puritan society ideas by expressing the disdain for it. He therefore demonstrates the differences between the appearances and the true identities of individuals in the society.

Young Goodman Brown: Characters

This story is made up of three main characters, Goodman Brown, Faith, and the Old Man. Goodman shows corruptibility as well as innocence as he hesitates between believing in the innate goodness of people around him and believing that the minds of these people have been taken over by the devil. Faith represents stability on the domestic sphere as she is presented as a pure hearted and is a stand-in of sorts for religious feeling. Finally, the old man is a representative of the devil which demonstrates the capability of any man being the devil.

Setting

Speaking about Young Goodman Brown’s time period, this story is set in the 17th century during colonial America. The specific location of the story is Salem, a place that was established by Purity settlers in 1626. The author conveys direction in the story by employing various techniques such as colloquial expressions and specific directions. The language of the period is also used as a way to enhance the setting of the story. The name Salem, a Hebrew word that depicts peace, was used as an illustration that Salem was a theocracy of the Christian moral law. This story was told at the time when Salem witch trials were held in 1692 where 20 innocent men and women were executed for practicing witchcraft.

Young Goodman Brown: Symbolism

There are two major forms of symbolism used in this story. The staff is described in a way that it represents the biblical symbol of the evil demon. Therefore the staff represents the old man as a demon and Goodman Brown as being on the path to evil when he takes the staff for himself. The other major form of symbolism used in this story is Faith's Pink Ribbons which represents purity. The colour pink is commonly associated with gaiety and innocence and the ribbons are innocent and modest decoration. When Faith is depicted without the ribbons in the story it demonstrates her shedding of innocence and purity but towards the end of the story she receives Brown while wearing the pink ribbons which makes Brown to doubt whether his experiences were real or a dream.

Language and Style

The language and style adopted in this story is greatly influenced by the time period it was developed. It utilises various sentence structures and diction that appear crispy and formal to a contemporary reader. Generally, the language in the story is appropriate to the audience as it is easy to comprehend and it is formal and less flowery. For instance and yet, though the elder person was as simply clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and who would not have felt abashed at the governor's dinner table or in King William's court, was it possible that his affairs should call him thither illustrates his formal approach to communication

Theme

So, what is Young Goodman Brown about? Young Goodman Brown's theme of this story is that one man's sin is another man's virtue. Goodman observes that there is no good on earth and the term sin is just but a name. simply put, whether an action is evil or good is dependent on who is viewing the action. The extremists of the Puritan punishing a sinner like Brown's grandfather lashing a Quaker woman might be praised as a just act by another Puritan but appear inhuman by non-Puritans. These opposing views on the same action appear to be confusing for Brown appears as a modern man who is convinced that one moral position is always right. However, the serpent figure in the narrative succeeds to confront Brown on what is truly wrong and right.

References

Hawthorne, N. (1835). Young Goodman Brown. In R. DiYanni. Fiction: An Introduction. (pp. 391-399). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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