Sunday, 18 December 2011

Young Goodman Brown

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The main theme of the Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, “ Young Goodman Brown,” is the struggle between Goodman Brown’s faith, power to resist his own evil impulses and his own doubts within him. It is a story of Young Goodman Brown’s personal conflict over his inner desires and its greater meaning conflict between good and evil in the world. The characteristics of Young Goodman Brown are similar to the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne had his own doubts about his own Puritan life and beliefs. There are numerous examples in this story whereby Hawthorne clearly demonstrates to the reader Goodman Brown’s personal internal conflict between good and evil.

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 actions that Young Goodman Brown takes. “Good men” in Hawthorne’s day were those who came from a “proper” family. The influence of Puritan religion, culture and education had a major role in how someone perceived themselves and their community around them. Goodman Brown claims that he is from a family of good men that have “never been into the forest on such an errand” to meet the devil; Hawthorne utilizes this information in order to show the reader how Goodman Brown’s ancestries played a vital role on how Goodman Brown thought of himself (as of good character). This view is quickly challenged by the devil himself when he states that all of his ancestors were with him as they tortured women in Salem or burned Indian villages to the ground, and afterwards the devil and his ancestors would go for a friendly walk. Goodman response to this allegation was; “We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness.” Goodman disbelieves that his ancestors could do such wickedness. Hawthorne calls into question the chaste foundation of Young Goodman Browns heritage, as well as the societal viewpoint of what is respectable, simply by pointing to a few facts. Given the existence and the importance of religion in the era of the early nineteenth century, Goodman Brown may be expressing a desire to break loose from a rigid puritan lifestyle. The puritan life style 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.

The experience that Goodman Brown faces will spur a complex inner conflict between good and evil. Upon entering the forest Goodman Brown is suspicious of every rock and tree, thinking something evil will jump out at him. When he finally does meet someone on the trail, who appears to be of evil origin, he feels confident that he can refuse any temptations. This evil person makes several advances and Goodman refuses. At first Goodman feels confident that he can resist any temptation that the devils throws upon him. Hawthorne describes how closely the devil resembles Goodman. Hawthorne describes them as though they “might have been mistaken for father and son.” The devil resembles him in order to make Goodman feel more comfortable around him. It makes it easier to tell lies and deceive Young Goodman Brown into coming with him to the witch gathering.

Goodman Brown discusses his self-doubt after incidences such as his discovery of the ‘true nature’ of his community within the forest. Brown thinks that he recognizes voices of his minister, deacon, and of his wife, but cant be certain since their figures are not visible. He thinks that everyone in his community is participating in satanic acts. When he sees this it destroys any faith he might of had in the community or himself, he appears to give up faith completely. Brown’s reluctance to take the Devil’s “snake-like staff” also illustrates his uncertainties and defiance in becoming one of the Devil’s chosen. Even the setting of the winding, long journey through the woods demonstrates indecision and conflict, as Goodman Brown has to spend a prolonged time considering his actions.

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Another incident that plays a role in Goodman’s uncertainties was when Goodman Brown runs into Goody Cloyse. Brown is very stunned to see Goody Cloyse, who had taught him his catechism, wandering in the forest after dark. Goodman Brown was dumbfounded when he confronted Goody and found out that she was unrighteous and could possibly be a witch. Goodman was shocked to think that Goody Cloyse, “ a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil, when I thought she was going to Heaven!” Goodman Brown doesn’t understand how someone so pure and who was bound to go to heaven could have become so wicked. This creates even more conflict and doubt within him and once again he questions his own faith. What finally persuades him to be cautious of his surroundings and distrust everyone in his path is when he sees his own innocent pink-buttoned wife participating in satanic acts. When Brown calls for his Faith, he gets no answer. Brown only 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. The pink button represents the pure innocents that has disappeared. This tears Goodman apart and creates so much doubt within him that it alters his perception about all the good people that are around him.

We can never be sure if good or evil won the fight waged within Young Goodman Brown, but Hawthorne makes it abundantly clear that Brown was scared for his life due to his experience. This journey that Young Goodman Brown encounters could of been a dream or even a true event that is manifested by his own internal desires. Unable to accept that society is a mixture of both good and evil, Goodman Brown chooses his own damnation. In the forest Brown saw a mixture of religious and wicked people, and it was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints. Brown ultimately decides to accept that everyone is evil, and he loses his chance at redemption when he makes the decision to completely isolate himself from society and even from his own wife.

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