Puritan doctrine taught that all men are totally depraved and require constant self-examination to see that they are sinners and unworthy of God's Grace. Because man had broken the Covenant of Works when Adam had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, God offered a new covenant to Abraham's people which held that election to Heaven was merely a possibility. In the Puritan religion, believers dutifully recognized the negative aspects of their humanity rather than the gifts they possessed. This shadow of distrust would have a direct influence on early American New England and on many of its historians and writers, one of which was Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The influence of Puritan religion, culture and education along with the setting of his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, is a common topic in Nathaniel Hawthorne's works. In particular, Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" allows the writer to examine and perhaps provide commentary on not only the Salem of his own time but also the Salem of his ancestors. 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 Hawthorne's 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 Salem and especially early Puritan society Hawthorne is able to discuss the merits and consequences of such zeal, especially the zeal of the Half-Way Covenant of 1662, 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 upon the road to what may or may not be a true conversion experience. The conversion experience – a sudden realization brought about by divine intervention, a vision, or perhaps a dream – 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 such a belief. Major issues and themes of Puritanism must have been researched and delicately placed into Hawthorne’s discussion of not only past consequences of Puritan zeal but also on the contemporary religious issue of his own time, the Second Great Awakening. Much like the nighttime witches Sabbath that awaits Goodman Brown, the tent revivals of the 1820’s and 1830’s could be seen by the questioning Hawthorne as another attempt by the church to sway its membership towards total obedience and faith. The importance placed on this event by Goodman Brown shows the importance placed on the conversion experience itself. It can be argued that the Half-Way Covenant – itself a means by which Puritanism attempted to hold onto its congregation – as an antagonist cast further doubt onto the later generations of Puritan society.
As the second generation of Puritans were born in America they lacked the zealousness of the first. Waning membership within the congregation made what would come to be known as the Half-Way Covenant an attempt by the church to solve this problem. The Covenant allowed the children of church members to be baptized and become part of the congregation, thus bolstering membership. But in order to be a full member and receive communion the conversion experience was still necessary. Much like the “journey” in which Brown placed so much significance, the fact that further doubt was now placed upon new members of the church would cause later problems in Puritan society and Salem itself.
In a further attempt to deal with lack of zeal within the church, church hierarchy controlled not only the congregation’s culture and laws, but also its education. In order to stress the consequences of such an education – one that would teach a child that man was not only suspect but also guilty of depravity -- Hawthorne would have most likely relied on Puritan educational history as a setting for the newly married Brown's self-examination. In the setting of the tale, Brown would fall under the Half-Way Covenant, and his education under Goody Cloyse in part fosters the need within Brown to enter the forest at night and seek the true conversion experience that would allow him full membership. 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. In order to understand Brown's own background as it pertains to his duty as a Puritan, Franklin returns to Cotton's original Catechism:
Q: What hath GOD done for you?
A: God hath made me, He keepeth me, and he can save me.
Q: Who is God?
A: God is a Spirit of himself, and for himself.
Q: How many Gods be there?
A: There is but one God in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Q: How did God make you?
A: In my first Parents holy and righteous.
Q: Are you then born holy and righteous?
A: No, my first Father sinned, and I in him.
Q: Are you then born a Sinner?
A: I was conceived in sin, and born in iniquity.
Q: What is your Birth-sin?
A: Adams sin imputed to me, and a corrupt nature dwelling in me.
Q: What is your corrupt nature?
A: My corrupt nature is empty of Grace, bent unto sin, and onely unto sin,
and that continually.
Q: What is sin?
A: Sin is the transgression of the Law [the Ten Commandments]. (70)
John Cotton’s Catechism Milk for Babes, by its emphasis on total depravity, soured the milk of human kindness. Consequently persons instructed in the catechism from their youth could consider a person of good works and character to be a witch merely on the basis of spectral evidence in spite of the witch’s quite orthodox relation to the community’s approved doctrinal authority. (1)While changes to the Catechism would have occurred from the 17th to Hawthorne's own 19th century, the idea that his father's family had wished a proper Puritan education for Hawthorne is an important issue. To accept as a child that you have in no way sinned but are completely sinful by nature is but one way in which "Young Goodman Brown" speaks out against Puritanism. As Young Goodman Brown witnesses the exchange between the “devil” – in the guise of Brown’s own father – and Goody Cloyse he can not accept that such a good Puritan is in fact in league with the devil. His remark that “That old woman taught me my catechism” creates a further shadow of doubt upon the young Puritan and is noted by Hawthorne that “there was a world of meaning in this simple comment” (2132).
Tension within the congregations concerning the conversion experience would grow in the late 17th century, and the culmination of this tension would be the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Once again a deep knowledge of the historical background of Salem would allow Hawthorne to reconsider the question posed to the Salem congregation in the late 1600’s – what counts as a true conversion experience and what could be seen as evidence. If the experience could be a dream or a vision, what would facilitate it? Just as the Protestants of his own time sought to regain enthusiasm through the unorthodox tent revivals of the Second Great Awakening, Hawthorne creates the possible dream journey of Brown deep into the forest to the Witches Sabbath. Spectral evidence – such as the devil changing into the shape of Brown’s deceased father – to the nighttime bonfires and finally to the dramatic invitation of the devil for Brown to enter into communion all are offered as part of a possible conversion experience. Hawthorne shows that the consequence for the mistrust and self-doubt that is inherent in Puritan education and doctrine does not create faith and peace. It creates only further confusion. Just like the men who condemned and executed the alleged witches of Salem, the confused and searching Goodman Brown is unable to see whether his experience is real or a dream.
Hawthorne’s claim is that this confusion is the only possible result of Puritan doctrine. To mistrust yourself, your neighbor, your teacher, and your very mind can not create faith. After his experience in the woods the aged and bitter Goodman Brown may be an example of the hardened persecutors of Salem. Left with no evidence and a severe mistrust of oneself and others, any evidence may be used. Hearsay, as when Brown “could have sworn . . . that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin,” or spectral evidence such as when the devils serpentine staff “perhaps . . . assumed life.” But such testimony is not even valid due to the fact that 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” (2132). And while Brown would live the rest of his days miserable, at least his condemnation of these people was kept to himself, unlike the congregation of Salem during the Trials. Cotton Mather himself preached a sermon in 1689 that furthered this mistrust and acceptance of non-evidence. His sermon told of how the supposed witches “do make craftily of the Air, the Figures and Colors of things that can never be truly crafted by them” (97). Mather also deals with the lack of evidence of witchcraft by simply stating that people who do not believe in witches are of “small wit” and the excuse “that they never saw any Witches, therefore there are none” is dismissible (97). The statement that Hawthorne creates for “Young Goodman Brown” is that in a distrustful and depraved society personal evidence such as a dream or vision grows into allegations and belief. The distrustful society that Puritans created themselves for a prosperous congregation would only return to harm them.
By showing the failures of Puritan society in dealing with the problem of church membership and specifically the conversion experience, Hawthorne spoke to his own time about the possible consequences of the Second Great Awakening. Such specific historical evidence is used to question the validity of Puritan doctrine. For example, the “devil” in Young Goodman Brown is seen by many critics not only as an apparition of Goodman Brown’s due to his lack of a conversion experience and the psychological effects of catechism but also may be seen as the Evangelist at a revival meeting. Both taught of the evil that lurked in man’s soul and the self-examination that was required to see it. Frank Shuffelton’s work “Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Revival Movement” states that:
To accept one’s almost solipsistic isolation from humanity . . . . Goodman Brown turns his back on Salem village in order to venture into dark nature and his darker self . . . reject(ing) the society which has nurtured him from the self-willed terrors of the imagination. This perception is for Hawthorne the central truth of the story, and it is simultaneously the old error toward which Puritanism tended and the mistake of the contemporary revivalists. (319)As a Puritan Young Goodman Brown sought a true conversion experience. Whether or not the meeting in the woods existed as reality or a dream does not matter. The point is that Puritanism required their followers to doubt themselves and their community so much that a reality in which one could achieve Grace did not exist. It taught that one could not trust anyone. In the Witch Trials men turned on their accused wives just as Goodman Brown himself has lost both his spiritual faith and his wife Faith because of something that may not have happened at all.
Hawthorne’s knowledge of the historical background of Puritanism combined
with the personal experience of his early life and the history of his own
family merge into the statement that “Young Goodman Brown” makes.
A system in which individuals can not trust themselves, their neighbors,
their instructors or even their ministers can not create an atmosphere
where faith exists. Hawthorne may be going even further than this,
to show that Goodman Brown’s experience, the alleged Witches of Salem,
and the tent revivals of his own time are the direct result of Puritan
doctrine. By placing so much importance on the conversion experience
and evidence for election to heaven while granting neither the self-trust
nor the self-worth to its congregation, Puritanism can only be seen as
an unending cycle of misery in which man is the most depraved and most
unworthy – exactly what the good Puritan should see themself as.
Franklin, Benjamin V. "Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism." ESQ 40 (First Quarter 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.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." 1835. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Lexington: Heath, 1944. 2129-38.
Levin, David. What happened in Salem? 2nd ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World Inc, 1967.
Mather, Cotton. "A Discourse on Witchcraft." Levin 96-105.
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. 3-18.
Shuffelton, Frank. “Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Revival Movement.” The American Transcendental Quarterly 44 (Fall 1979): 311-321.
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Hawthorne viewed his Puritan ancestors with a mixture of pride and guilt. He felt pride in seeing the history of his own family interwoven with that of Salem (Turner 5). He was proud of their prominence and accomplishments that greatly overshadowed the declining fortunes of subsequent generations. On the other hand, he felt guilt for his ancestor's part in witch trials and intolerant prosecution of Quakers. In "Young Goodman Brown" the devil tells Brown that "I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly" (Hawthorne 2131). Historians of Hawthorne's day were harshly critical of the witch trials and inflexible Puritan ideology of the 17th century. Many current publications and lectures condemned the cruel intolerance of Puritans, and Hawthorne anticipated reader interest as an added incentive for using his Puritan heritage as a background for his work. "Hawthorne's fullest display of witch lore is in one of the first tales he wrote, 'Young Goodman Brown"' (Turner 67). When Brown marveled that Goody Cloyse, who had taught him his catechism was in the forest after dark (Hawthorne 2131), he referred to an historical witch.
Hawthorne had a skeptical, dual-outlook on life. By the time “Young Goodman Brown” was published he had chosen to spend approximately one-third of his life in self-imposed isolation. Though he chose isolation, it was entirely contrary to his beliefs. Hawthorne believed society to be all-important. During his college years, associations with people and exposure to current ideas convinced him of the need for social responsibility and humanistic concern (Johnson 35). Hawthorne felt that the human self has meaning and value only through reciprocal relationships (Anderson 60). The choice between isolation and society recurs in “Young Goodman Brown.”
During his years of isolated study, Hawthorne’s dual-outlook caused him to constantly try to see both sides of situations, and subsequent doubts increased his skepticism. He adopted what was to be a lifelong "philosophy of uncertainty both in his private life and in his fiction" (Donaldson 216). Hawthorne's skepticism helped to develop a writing technique in which a mixture of fact and imagination lets the reader make his own interpretations. In "Young Goodman Brown" both Brown and the reader are given choices as to what is happening. Brown thinks that he recognizes voices of his minister, deacon, and of his wife, but can't be certain since their figures are not visible (2133-34). The flaming altar rock is suddenly chill and damp, while flaming trees and twigs become covered with cold dew (2137). "Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?" (2137). The choice is dream or reality. Whatever the reader chooses to believe, Goodman Brown's own horrible doubts create a central theme of the tale (Fogel 21).
Hawthorne’s mental and moral beliefs are revealed throughout “Young Goodman Brown.” Puritans believed that the fall of Adam was the inheritance of all men, and that redemption came only through Christ. Hawthorne came to believe that the fall was by human contrivance, that "damnation is not inherited but chosen and is redeemable through human agency" (Ziff 140). He thought that humans share a brotherhood of guilt. "If guilt itself was escapable, brotherhood with the guilty was not" (Ziff 142). This belief of Hawthorne's is the pivotal point of this tale. Unable to accept that society is a brotherhood of both good and evil, Goodman Brown chose his own damnation. In the forest Brown saw a mixture of pious and dissolute people, and it was strange to see that "the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints" (Hawthorne 2135). Brown chose to see that all were evil and lost his chance at redemption when he chose to isolate himself and to "shrink from his Faith" and fellow man.
We probably know everything about Hawthorne's life that we are ever
going to know. By all accounts, he was very inexperienced when he wrote
"Young Goodman Brown," and I believe that Hawthorne would have us make
of that work what we will. A recent biographer Arlin Turner tells us that
"to recognize his life and his writings as components of a consistent whole"
clarifies both (vi). The biographical contexts for "Young Goodman Brown"
of which we are certain are that Hawthorne's Puritan heritage was a "treasure
house of frailties of human certitude which skeptics love to brood on"
(Canby 236) and that he was a skeptic who brooded about his own beliefs,
his own morality.
Anderson, Quentin. The Imperial Self: An Essay in American Literary and Cultural History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971.
Canby, Henry Seidel. Classic Americans: A Study of Eminent American Writers from Irving to Whitman. New York: Russell and Russell, 1939.
Donaldson, Scott and Ann Massa. American Literature: Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century. New York: Harper and Row, 1978.
Fogle, Richard Harter. Hawthorne's Fiction: The Light and the Dark. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1952.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." 1835. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Lexington: Heath, 1944. 2129-38.
Johnson, Claudia D. The Productive Tension of Hawthorne's Art. University: U of Alabama P, 1981.
Turner, Arlin. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Biography. New York: Oxford UP, 1980.
Ziff, Larzer. Literary Democracy: The Declaration of Cultural Independence
in America. New York: Viking Press, 1981.
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“Dearest heart,” whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, “pr'y thee, 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 afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!”
“My love and my Faith,” replied young Goodman Brown, “of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, cost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!”
“Then, God bless you!” said Faith, with the pink ribbons, “and may you find all well, when you come back.”
“Amen!” cried Goodman Brown. “Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee.”
So they parted; and the young man pursued his way, until, being about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back, and saw the head of Faith still peeping after him, with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink ribbons.
“Poor little Faith!” thought he, for his heart smote him. “What a wretch am I, to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought, as she spoke, there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done to-night. But, no, no! 'twould kill her to think it. Well; she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven.”
With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that, with lonely footsteps, he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.
“There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,” said Goodman Brown, to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him, as he added, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!”
His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and looking forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose, at Goodman Brown’s approach, and walked onward, side by side with him.
“You are late, Goodman Brown,” said he. “The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston; and that is full fifteen minutes agone.”
“Faith kept me back awhile,” replied the young man, with a tremor in
his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not
It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of it where these two were journeying. As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveller was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than features. Still, they might have been taken for father and son. 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 would not have felt abashed at the governor's dinner-table, or in King William's court, were it possible that his affairs should call him thither. But the only thing about him, that could be fixed upon as remarkable, was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself, like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.
“Come, Goodman Brown!” cried his fellow-traveller, “this is a dull pace for the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you are so soon weary.”
“Friend,” said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop, “having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples, touching the matter thou wot'st of.”
“Sayest thou so?” replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. “Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go, and if I convince thee not, thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest, yet.”
“Too far, too far!” exclaimed the goodman unconsciously resuming his walk. “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians, since the days of the martyrs. And shall I be the first of the name of Brown, that ever took this path, and kept—”
“Such company, thou wouldst say,” observed the elder person, interpreting his pause. “Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's war. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you, for their sake.”
“If it be as thou sayest,” replied Goodman Brown, “I marvel they never spoke of these matters. Or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the least rumor of the sort would have driven them from New-England. We are a people of prayer, and good works, to boot, and abide no such wickedness.”
“Wickedness or not,” said the. traveller with the twisted staff, “I have a very general acquaintance here in New-England. The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen, of divers towns, make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too—but these are state-secrets.”
“Can this be so!” cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at his undisturbed companion. “Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman, like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make me tremble, both Sabbath-day and lecture-day!”
Thus far, the elder traveller had listened with due gravity, but now burst into a fit of irrepressible mirth, shaking himself so violently, that his snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.
“Ha! ha! ha!” shouted he, again and again; then composing himself, “Well, go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but pr'y thee, don't kill me with laughing!”
“Well, then, to end the matter at once,” said Goodman Brown, considerably nettled, “there is my wife, Faith. It would break her dear little heart; and I'd rather break my own!”
“Nay, if that be the case,” answered the other, “e'en go thy ways, Goodman Brown. I would not, for twenty old women like the one hobbling before us, that Faith should come to any harm.”
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.
“A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness, at night-fall!” said he. “But, with your leave, friend, I shall take a cut through the woods, until we have left this Christian woman behind. Bring a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with, and whither I was going.”
“Be it so,” said his fellow-traveller. “Betake you to the woods, and let me keep the path.”
Accordingly, the young man turned aside, but took care to watch his companion, who advanced softly along the road, until he had come within a staff's length of the old dame. She, meanwhile, was making the best of her way, with singular speed for so aged a woman, and mumbling some indistinct words, a prayer, doubtless, as she went. 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 odd 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 receipt,” 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 to-night. 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 the 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.
They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveller exhorted his companion to make good speed and persevere in the path, discoursing so aptly, that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor, than to be suggested by himself. As they went, he plucked a branch of maple, to serve for a walking-stick, and began to strip it of the twigs and little boughs, which were wet with evening dew. The moment his fingers touched them, they became strangely withered and dried up, as with a week's sunshine. Thus the pair proceeded, at a good free pace, until suddenly, in a gloomy hollow of the road, Goodman Brown sat himself down on the stump of a tree, and refused to go any farther.
“Friend,” said he, stubbornly, “my mind is made up. Not another step
will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose to
go to the devil, when I thought she was going to Heaven! Is that any reason
why I should quit my dear Faith, and go after her?”
“You will think better of this, by-and-by,” said his acquaintance, composedly. “Sit here and rest yourself awhile; and when you feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along.”
Without more words, he threw his companion the maple stick, and was as speedily out of sight, as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom. The young man sat a few moments, by the road-side, applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister, in his morning-walk, nor shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin. And what calm sleep would be his, that very night, which was to have been spent so wickedly, but purely and sweetly now, in the arms of Faith! Amidst these pleasant and praiseworthy meditations, Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now so happily turned from it.
On came the hoof-tramps and the voices of the riders, two grave old voices, conversing soberly as they drew near. These mingled sounds appeared to pass along the road, within a few yards of the young man's hiding-place; but owing, doubtless, to the depth of the gloom, at that particular spot, neither the travellers nor their steeds were visible. Though their figures brushed the small boughs by the way-side, it could not be seen that they intercepted, even for a moment, the faint gleam from the strip of bright sky, athwart which they must have passed. Goodman Brown alternately crouched and stood on tip-toe, pulling aside the branches, and thrusting forth his head as far as he durst, without discerning so much as a shadow. 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 to-night'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.”
The hoofs clattered again, and the voices, talking so strangely in the empty air, passed on through the forest, where no church had ever been gathered, nor solitary Christian prayed. Whither, then, could these holy men be journeying, so deep into the heathen wilderness? Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree, for support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and overburthened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a Heaven above him. Yet, there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening in it.
“With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” cried Goodman Brown.
While he still gazed upward, into the deep arch of the firmament, and
had lifted his hands to pray, a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried
across the zenith, and hid the brightening stars. The blue sky was still
visible, except directly overhead, where this black mass of cloud was sweeping
swiftly northward. Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud,
came a confused and doubtful sound of voices. Once, the listener fancied
that he could distinguish the accents of town's-people of his own, men
and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion-table,
and had seen others rioting at the tavern. The next moment, so indistinct
were the sounds, he doubted whether he had heard aught but the murmur of
the old forest, whispering without a wind. Then came a stronger swell of
those familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine, at Salem village, but
never, until now, from a cloud of night. There was one voice, of a young
woman, uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow, and entreating
for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain. And all
the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her
“Faith!” shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying—“Faith! Faith!” as if bewildered wretches were seeking her, all through the wilderness.
The cry of grief, rage, and terror, was yet piercing the night, when the unhappy husband held his breath for a response. There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air, and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.
“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given.”
And maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate, that he seemed to fly along the forest-path, rather than to walk or run. The road grew wilder and drearier, and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil. The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds; the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of Indians; while, sometimes, the wind tolled like a distant church-bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveller, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn. But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors.
“Ha! ha! ha!” roared Goodman Brown, when the wind laughed at him. “Let
us hear which will laugh loudest! Think not to frighten me with your deviltry!
Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powow, come devil himself! and here
comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you!”
In truth, all through the haunted forest, there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew, among the black pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth such laughter, as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man. Thus sped the demoniac on his course, until, quivering among the trees, he saw a red light before him, as when the felled trunks and branches of a clearing have been set on fire, and throw up their lurid blaze against the sky, at the hour of midnight. He paused, in a lull of the tempest that had driven him onward, and heard the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling solemnly from a distance, with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune; it was a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The verse died heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human voices, but of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness, pealing in awful harmony together. Goodman Brown cried out; and his cry was lost to his own ear, by its unison with the cry of the desert.
In the interval of silence, he stole forward, until the light glared full upon his eyes. At one extremity of an open space, hemmed in by the dark wall of the forest, arose a rock, bearing some rude, natural resemblance either to an altar or a pulpit, and surrounded by four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting. The mass of foliage, that had overgrown the summit of the rock, was all on fire, blazing high into the night, and fitfully illuminating the whole field. Each pendent twig and leafy festoon was in a blaze. As the red light arose and fell, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow, and again grew, as it were, out of the darkness, peopling the heart of the solitary woods at once.
“A grave and dark-clad company!” quoth Goodman Brown.
In truth, they were such. Among them, quivering to-and-fro, between gloom and splendor, appeared faces that would be seen, next day, at the council-board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land. Some affirm, that the lady of the governor was there. At least, there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled, lest their mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of light, flashing over the obscure field, bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the churchmembers of Salem village, famous for their especial sanctity. Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived, and waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his revered pastor. But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes. It was strange to see, that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints. Scattered, also, among their pale-faced enemies, were the Indian priests, or powows, who had often scared their native forest with more hideous incantations than any known to English witchcraft.
“But, where is Faith?” thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came into his heart, he trembled.
Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such as the pious love, but joined to words which expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more. Unfathomable to mere mortals is the lore of fiends verse after verse was sung, and still the chorus of the desert swelled between, like the deepest tone of a mighty organ. And, with the final peal of that dreadful anthem, there came a sound, as if the roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howling beasts, and every other voice of the unconverted wilderness, were mingling and according with the voice of guilty man, in homage to the prince of all. The four blazing pines threw up a loftier flame, and obscurely discovered shapes and visages of horror on the smoke-wreaths, above the impious assembly. At the same moment, the fire on the rock shot redly forth, and formed a glowing arch above its base, where now appeared a figure. With reverence be it spoken, the figure bore no slight similitude, both in garb and manner, to some grave divine of the New-England churches.
“Bring forth the converts!” cried a voice, that echoed through the field and rolled into the forest.
At the word, Goodman Brown steps forth from the shadow of the trees, and approached the congregation, with whom he felt a loathful brotherhood, by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart. He could have well nigh sworn, that the shape of his own dead father beckoned him to advance, looking downward from a smoke-wreath, while a woman, with dim features of despair, threw out her hand to warn him back. Was it his mother? But he had no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought, when the minister and good old Deacon Gookin seized his arms, and led him to the blazing rock. Thither came also the slender form of a veiled female, led between Goody Cloyse, that pious teacher of the catechism, and Martha Carrier, who had received the devil's promise to be queen of hell. A rampant hag was she! And there stood the proselytes, beneath the canopy of fire.
“Welcome, my children,” said the dark figure, “to the communion of your race! Ye have found, thus young, your nature and your destiny. My children, look behind you!”
They turned; and flashing forth, as it were, in a sheet of flame, the fiend-worshippers were seen; the smile of welcome gleamed darkly on every visage.
“There,” resumed the sable form, “are all whom ye have reverenced from youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your own sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness, and prayerful aspirations heavenward. Yet, here are they all, in my worshipping assembly! This night it shall be granted you to know their secret deeds; how hoary-bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eager for widow's weeds, has given her husband a drink at bedtime, and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom; how beardless youths have made haste to inherit their fathers' wealth; and how fair damsels—blush not, sweet ones!—have dug little graves in the garden, and bidden me, the sole guest, to an infant's funeral. By the sympathy of your human hearts for sin, ye shall scent out all the places—whether in church, bed-chamber, street, field, or forest—where crime has been committed, and shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood-spot. Far more than this! It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than human power—than my power, at its utmost!—can make manifest in deeds. And now, my children, look upon each other.”
They did so; and, by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar.
“Lo! there ye stand, my children,” said the figure, in a deep and solemn torte, 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!”
“Welcome!” repeated the fiend-worshippers, in one cry of despair and triumph.
And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating
on the verge of wickedness, in this dark world. A basin was hollowed, naturally,
in the rock. Did it contain water, reddened by the lurid light? or was
it blood? or, perchance, a liquid flame? Herein did the Shape of Evil dip
his hand, and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads,
that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the
secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be
of their own. The husband cast one look at his pale wife, and Faith at
him. What polluted wretches would the next glance shew them to each other,
shuddering alike at what they disclosed and what they saw!
“Faith! Faith!” cried the husband. “Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!”
Whether Faith obeyed, he knew not. Hardly had he spoken, when he found himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind, which died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against the rock and felt it chill and damp, while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew.
The next morning, young Goodman Brown came slowly into the street of Salem village, staring around him like a bewildered man. The good old minister was taking a walk along the grave-yard, to get an appetite for breakfast and meditate his sermon, and bestowed a blessing, as he passed, on Goodman Brown. He shrank from the venerable saint, as if to avoid an anathema. Old Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship, and the holy words of his prayer were heard through the open window. “What God cloth the wizard pray to?” quoth Goodman Brown. Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian, stood in the early sunshine, at her own lattice, catechising a little girl, who had brought her a pint of morning's milk. Goodman Brown snatched away the child, as from the grasp of the fiend himself. Turning the corner by the meetinghouse, he spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him, that she skips along the street, and almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But, Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.
Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild
dream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so, if you will. But, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man, did he become, from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath-day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen, because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear, and drowned all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit, with power and fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading, lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers. Often, awakening suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith, and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled, and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away. And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave, a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grand-children, a goodly procession, besides neighbors, not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tomb-stone; for his dying hour was gloom.
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). Return to Text.
the pink ribbons of her cap: 1. “The ribbons are in fact an explicit link between two conceptions of Faith, connecting sweet little Faith of the village with the woman who stands at the Devil’s baptismal font. We can legitimately disagree about the meaning of this duality; the fact remains that in proposing that Faith’s significance is the opposite of what he had led the reader to expect, Hawthorne violates the fixed conceptual meaning associated with his character” (Levy 123). “They are part of her adornment of dress, and they suggest, rather than symbolize something light and playful, consistent with her anxious simplicity at the beginning and the joyful, almost childish eagerness with which she greets Brown at the end” (Levy 124). 2. “These ribbons . . . are an important factor in the plot, and as an emblem of heavenly faith their color gradually deepens into the liquid flame or blood of the baptism into sin” (Fogle 24). 3. “The pink ribbons that adorn the cap which Faith wears . . . are a badge of feminine innocence” (Abel 130). 4. “Neither scarlet nor white, but of a hue somewhere between, the ribbons suggest neither total depravity nor innocence, but a psychological state somewhere between. Tied like a label to the head of Faith, they represent the tainted innocence, the spiritual imperfection of all mankind” (Ferguson). Return to Text.
Goodman Brown: 1. According to Levy, he “is Everyman. The bargain he has struck with Satan is the universal one . . . . Initially, he is a naive and immature young man who fails to understand the gravity of the step he has taken . . . [which is] succeeded by a presumably adult determination to resist his own evil impulses” (117). 2. Fogle writes that he is “a naive young man who accepts both society in general and his fellow men as individuals at their own valuation, [who] is in one terrible night confronted with the vision of human evil . . . ” (15). Return to Text.
fellow-traveler: 1. Hale writes that he is “a likeness or part or ancestor of Brown himself” (17). 2. “This man is, of course, the Devil, who seeks to lure the still reluctant goodman to a witch-meeting. In the process he progressively undermines the young man’s faith in the institutions and the men whom he has heretofore revered” (Fogle 17). Return to Text.
staff: “[W]hen the diabolic companion throws his twisted staff down at the feet of Goody Cloyse,” the act references the biblical story of “Aaron [who] had thrown down his rod (staff) before Pharoah, and so had the magicians of Egypt done with theirs, and all became serpents . . . ” (Hale 17). “Therefore, within an allegorical or typological framework, the staff of Brown’s companion is being linked with the opponents of Moses and of the God of Israel. . . . It typifies deformity, evil, all that which fascinates Brown” (Hale 18). Just as the rods (staffs) of the Egyptian magicians had become serpents when thrown down before Pharoah, so “Hawthorne suggests wonder-working, therefore power, in the strange antics of the twisted staff . . . . the symbolism is that of a struggle, a universal (not merely sexual) struggle for possession of the mind” (Hale 18). Return to Text.
my catechism: “Although the treatment of innate depravity in the catechism is relatively brief, this was only one source of information about human corruption and its implications available to Puritan youth. As part of the Puritan upbringing . . . Brown doubtless would have sat through many sermons that emphasized innate depravity, which his family of churchgoers presumably reinforced . . . ” (Franklin 71). “Had Brown understood from childhood that humans, all of whom are depraved, cannot obey the Commandments, that fidelity to God’s law is impossible, [as the Puritan catechism teaches] he would not be so surprised to see, or to think he sees, the several worthies preparing to act in a decidedly non-Christian manner in the woods” (Franklin 80). Return to Text.
maple stick: Hale writes: “the point about a maple [stick] is that it rots from inside, out of sight. . . . Hawthorne discriminates. The maple stick . . . is given to Brown, the twisted staff to Goody Cloyse: she has apparently undergone confirmation in evil, where Brown is weak and rotten” (Hale 17). Return to Text.
Faith: 1. “She is at once an allegorical idea and the means by which the idea is inverted” (Levy 116). “Not the least terrifying aspect of the story is the insinuation that Faith has made her own independent covenant with the Devil. There is a faint suggestion that her complicity may be prior to and deeper than Brown’s” (Levy 120). 2. “If he [Brown] believed in the certainty of depravity and only the possibiity of salvation, as the [Puritan] catechism teaches, he would know that even so righteous a person as Faith is corrupt and not necessarily of the elect, appearances notwithstanding” (Franklin 73). Return to Text.
a pink ribbon: 1. “Brown
calls out three times for Faith to come to his aid, and not until he [Brown]
sees a pink ribbon from Faith’s cap that has fluttered down from the sky
and caught on the branch of a tree does he abandon hope . . . . [It
is] the tangible evidence of Faith’s desertion” (Levy 117). 2. “The pink
ribbon seen in the forest may be merely a lustful projection of the goodman’s
depraved fancy, which wills wickedness . . . even as it reluctantly departs
from its forfeited innocence” (Abel 136). Return
the forest: “Hawthorne emphasizes the split between convention and the unconscious by having Brown move from the town to the country as he follows his impulses. The deeper he moves into the forest, the more completely he becomes one with his ‘evil’” (Bunge 13). Return to Text.
laughter: According to Coldiron, “Hawthorne uses laughter to mark his protagonists’ epiphanies and to emphasize points of thematic conflict. . . . a Satan-figure, the elder traveler, initiates the dreadful laughter . . . . [which] mocks Brown’s naive belief in the innocence of the townspeople, as he wonders aloud how he could face his minister after such a night’s journey into evil. . . [T]he transformation of Faith’s scream into a laugh of acceptance as she joins a similarly evil gathering in progress . . . . intensifies and personalizes Brown’s perception of conflict. Thus, propelled by crescendos of laughing, Brown sees the pink ribbon fall, and his awareness of the conflict between good and evil is complete. He gives himself over to a new perspective.” After Faith’s apparent union with Satan, Brown “initiates the horrible laughter, as the Satan-figure first did, [which] confirms not only his awareness of the opposition of good and evil forces, but also his union with, acceptance of, and even leadership in the evil viewpoint” (19). Return to Text.
the demoniac: “Utterly possessed by the Devil, he [Brown] yields to the conviction that the world is given over to sin” (Levy 118). Return to Text.
a hanging twig and the coldest dew: It awakens Goodman Brown “to reality from his dream or vision” when it “scatters cold dew on his cheek. . . . [It] is the vehicle for bringing to Brown’s face the reminder of what would be correct behavior and attitude for a man in this situation. He should be weeping, but he is not.” Because Goodman Brown “does not weep,” Hawthorne sprinkles dew “on his cheek to represent the absence of tears. This lack of tears, the outward sign of an inward reality, posits the absence of the innate love and humility that would have made possible Brown’s moral and spiritual progression” (Easterly 340). Return to Text.
Goodman Brown: 1. “The young man has the vulnerability of youth and, having newly yielded to the persuasions of the Devil, he has been led step by step to mistrust all he had believed in” (Abel 131). 2. “Since Brown never masters the lessons Goody Cloyse tried to teach him, he cannot fit spiritually, emotionally, or psychologically into his own society” (Franklin 82). Return to Text.
that fearful dream: Levy
writes that through this metaphor “the many hints of Brown’s unconscious
fascination with evil are communicated, but Hawthorne recognizes that our
waking life and the life of dreams are bound up together--that life is
like a dream in its revelation of terrifying truths. His point is
that the truth conveyed in the dream--that faith may betray us--is also
a truth of waking experience” (116). Return to Text.
Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Coldiron, A.E.B. “Laughter as Thematic Marker in ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 17 (Spring 1991): 19.
Easterly, Joan Elizabeth. “Lachrymal Imagery in Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Studies in Short Fiction 28 (Summer 1991): 339-343.
Ferguson, J. M., Jr. “Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown.” Explicator 28 (Dec. 1969): Item 32.
Franklin, Benjamin V. “Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism.” ESQ 40 (1994): 67-88.
Fogle, Richard Harter. Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light and the Dark. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1952.
Hale, John K. “The Serpentine Staff in ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 19 (Fall 1993): 17-18.
Levy, Leo B. “The Problem of Faith in ‘Young Goodman Brown.’”
Modern Critcial Views: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ed.
Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 115-126.
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In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne depicts a 17th century Puritan attempting to reach justification as Brown’s faith required. Upon completing his journey, however, Brown could not confront the terrors of evil in his heart and chose to reject all of society. Puritan justification was a topic Hawthorne was aware of as an internalized journey to hell necessary for a moral man. Works such as John Winthrop’s The History of New England and Neal’s The History of the Puritans described justification as a psychological journey into evil, the hell of the self. Having referred to the heart of man as hell, Puritans found themselves in the midst of Satan and his multitude of devils as he established his kingdom in man’s heart. “It was an interior landscape more bleak and far more treacherous than the external one in which the New World Puritan found himself” (Johnson 11). This was a dreadful revelation that caused Brown to grow bitter and distrustful, just as it did with 17th Century Puritans.
Puritan communities, secured by their orthodox faith, dealt with the ungodly wilderness around them. Set in Salem during the early witchcraft day of 1692, Young Goodman Brown’s experience in the dark, evil forest correlated and would have been recognized by Puritans as a symbol of mistrust of their own corrupt hearts and faculties (137). The forest, dark and evil, represented the deceit and darkness of man’s heart. Just as Brown could not trust the shadows and figures he saw hidden in the forest, he could not trust his own desires. Those desires had to be purged through his journey into the forest, which became a Journey towards Justification. That corrupt heart was torn open after Brown heard Faith’s voice and seeing her pink ribbon screamed: “My Faith is gone . . . . There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come Devil; for to thee is this world given.” Such a revelation made Brown “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man.” This revelation is often the result of a Puritan confronting his repressed evil. According to the Journey towards Justification, this confrontation should teach him to let go of his wordly dependence and strive for a life without sin.
Hawthorne often called the Puritan life of his ancestors “stern.”
He was aware of the constant tension and battle between the flesh and the
spirit in the lives of the 17th Century Puritans. The purpose of
their faith was to provide a divine victory in the after-life from that
battle. Boredom, vice and need (desire), the three evils, were kept
at bay, under the forceful hand of religion. However, such a battle
often led to an inner despair. They were constantly tormented because
of the possible convictions and judgements of their peers. This battle
intrigued Hawthorne and he sought out its presence in Puritan literature.
Works such as Cotton Mather’s Magnalia fascinated Hawthorne.
It held “the morbid intensity with which he projected distinctive features
of the Puritan imagination of reality.” Mather believed there were
evil spirits in the world: “these unlovely demons were everywhere, in the
sunshine as well as in the darkness, and that they were hidden in men’s
hearts and stole into their most secret thoughts” (Abel 133).
Those evil spirits tortured the Puritan, constantly reminding him
of his sin and the battle in his own heart. Hawthorne used the presence
of these demon in “Young Goodman Brown” by demonstrating, through Brown,
the Puritan Journey towards Justification.
The descent of this Journey towards Justification was marked by the disappearance of the self. In place of the self, was the awareness of depravity, helplessness and the illusions of sin. This awareness would then assist the moral man to no longer depend upon material things or people, but to put his faith solely upon God. Intending to be a positive outcome of Justification, Brown found the awareness of his depravity and instead of feeling the enlightenment of his vision, he was blinded by the reality of sin and sentenced himself to a life of miserable isolation.
Hawthorne used “Young Goodman Brown” to create an awareness similar to that of the Journey of Justification. Hawthorne intended for the reader to become aware of the depravity accompanied by sin. He intended for the reader to view the reality of sin and the terror of the human hell that was revealed to Brown. However, Hawthorne also intended for his reader to take that awareness and use it to better deal with life. Isolation from society and complete rejection of all who have sinned could only lead to a miserable and desperate end. “Hawthorne poses the dangerous question of the relations of Good and Evil in man but withholds his answer. Nor does he permit himself to determine whether the events . . . are real” (Fogle 16). That way the complete interpretation of “Young Goodman Brown” is left up to the reader, according to his/her own life, mind, forms of Justification, beliefs, fears and of course, hell.
Fogle, Richard Harter. Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light and The Dark. Noman: U of Oklahoma P, 1970.
Johnson, Claudia D. The Productive Tension of Hawthorne’s Art.
University, AL: U of Alabama P, 1981.
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Benoit, Raymond. "'Young Goodman Brown': The Second Time Around." The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 19 (Spring 1993): 18-21.
Using Jungian ideas, Benoit provides a psychoanalytic reading of “Young Goodman Brown.” Benoit focuses on “Jung’s Psychology and Religion to clarify the psychological dimension of Hawthorne’s artistic achievement . . .” Young Goodman Brown’s dream in the tale, represents the struggle of his conscious and unconscious ideals of marriage. In Brown’s unconscious dream he uncovers sexual feelings in which he refers to as gotten him “into trouble.” Brown’s submission during the forest scene erases his marriage, which is “annulled at least psychologically in the revelation of his deep feelings . . .” because he is “repelled by sexuality.”Coldiron, A.E.B. "Laughter as Thematic Marker in 'Young Goodman Brown.'" The Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 17 (Spring 1991): 19.
Laughter accentuates the progress of the protagonist in “Young Goodman Brown.” Coldrion examines the presence of laughter showing its surfacing in the intuitive realization of the main character. In “Young Goodman Brown” laughter “not only marks the narrative moment of the protagonist’s awareness and its underlying thematic conflict but also heralds the protagonist’s initiation into a new vision, and even his assumption of an antagonistic leadership position.” Brown perceived the Puritan townspeople as strong godly people; however, in his enlightenment or new vision he recognizes that these people do have evil tendencies and are hypocrites. In conclusion, laughter marks Young Goodman Brown’s acknowledgment of his new vision and his conversion into an opposing school of thought.Franklin, Benjamin V. "Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism." ESQ 40 (First Quarter 1994): 67-88.
The role of catechism is the focus in this article. Catechism is a book that explains principals of Christian religion. Franklin examines the significance of 'Young Goodman Brown' referring to Goody Cloyse teaching Brown his catechism. Franklin also identifies the use of John Cotton's Milk for Babes catechism. This article suggests that Young Goodman Brown did not learn or comprehend the catechism; he only memorized the words and, therefore, he had no true understanding or ability to apply these tenents to his life. Franklin notes, "I then examine the entire catechism and apply it to Brown, demonstrating that he never masters its meaning." With Brown not comprehending his religious principles, he does not realize the innate corruptness in mankind until his experience in the forest.Keil, James C. "Hawthorne's 'Young Goodman Brown': Early Nineteenth-Century and Puritan Constructions of Gender.'" The New England Quarterly 69 (March 1996): 33-55.
This article examines how Puritan ideology helped to develop in the 19th century distinct gender roles that separate males into the public sphere and females into the private sphere. "Young Goodman Brown" reveals Hawthorne's frustrations imposed by the tension between Puritan ideology and the natural behavior of man. Keil notes, "'Young Goodman Brown', probably written no earlier than the initial years of the decade and published anonymously in 1835, chronicles Hawthorne's observations about the anxieties caused by such discrepancies between ideology and behavior. Young Goodman Brown, who has come to believe with religious fervor what he has been taught prior to marriage about the separation of spheres, is disoriented by the behavior expectations he confronts once he has entered that institution." In closing, it is implied that Hawthorne wants the reader to integrate historical and psychosexual concepts when comprehending Puritan values.Morris, Christopher D. "Deconstructing 'Young Goodman Brown.'" American Trancendental Quarterly 2 (March 1988): 23-33.
Morris uses reader response theory in order to describe how the reader is taken into Young Goodman Brown's life. Morris then demonstrates, through deconstruction, how the reader is misled through Brown: "by following young Goodman Brown, the fellow-traveller, and the narrator, the reader repeats the necessary misinterpretations they commit." The reader interprets Brown's experiences and is led to the same false interpretation. Brown concludes that life is meaningless, "acced[ing] to a nietzschean 'transvaluation of all values.'" Lastly, by misinterpreting "Young Goodman Brown" the reader may possibly respond with doubt and dislike of mankind from the loss of faith in our ideological values.Return to Top
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