“Young Goodman Brown” Analysis
Every individual has the freedom to make a choice. One has the option to do good things or bad ones. The narrative “Young Goodman Brown” shows how characters opt to do evil things rather than conducting themselves based on the teachings of their Faith. The central theme of the narrative is the weakness of humankind and their easily led nature and the danger when one abandons Christianity even for an evening. To analyze the narrative, this paper looks at four symbols which are obvious and clear even for the least attentive individual. However, in the last part of the story these symbols reveal a rather deeper meaning and irony. Nathan Hawthorne used these symbols to illustrate the story’s true meaning. The first symbol of the story is Faith whom Goodman Browns leaves to spend the night in the woods. Faith is the wife to Goodman Brown and a symbol for Goodman Faith and his religious conviction. Her name is not an accident by any chance. She requested Goodman to stay with her, but he is determined to leave.
Brown sets off at sunset as the evening becomes darker just as Brown’s Faith and light in God are fading away. The dark woods and its poor visibility is another symbol that represents the loneliness and confusion of Brown’s life without God. Brown meets the devil in the woods, and we are made aware of it as it is identified by the snakelike thing he was carrying. The devil is described as looking like Brown himself (Newberry College, 321). Someone who was at ease with anything and any company. This scenario is a lesson to Christians that the devil is right with us in this world, and the devil can easily corrupt us through our growing attachment to life and material things. Ironically when the devil asked Brown why he was late, he said that he had been kept late by Faith, his wife.
Brown attempts to get away from the devils
Brown attempts to get away from the devils, but the devil convinces him that they are only a little distance into the woods. He’s convinced that he will turn back after he has listened to what the devil has to say, and he agrees to it. This is another symbol to remind Christians that when the devil takes over our lives, it is very dangerous as he can easily convince us with his power. The devil tells him about some individuals who were under his power carrying sins in their hearts but appear righteous. He informed Brown that his father and grandfather were under his power, too, and they have been doing his work but in the name of God. They met a woman Goody Cloyse who had fallen into sin, and he attempts to get away from the devil. His language is based on symbolism also as he questions himself whether to leave his Faith, to go after the woman they have just met (Eberwein & Jane, 32) The devil disappears. Brown is left alone in the darkness of sin, and he looks up to heaven but cannot because a black cloud blocks his view. Here it is demonstrated that allowing the worldly things to distract, and you can make you blind to heaven. Brown leaves the path to run through the woods wildly. Nathaniel uses this part of the story to symbolize to Christians that finding the path of righteousness after leaving is very hard because of the darkness. He arrives at the witch’s place, but he saved himself by appealing to heaven, and he found his way back to where he came from a free man.
Most people in the narrative make a choice to do evil, which is another indicator of human weakness. Goodman has a rendezvous with the devil but does not want the wife to know. Gookin is a deacon at the church that Goodman attends but makes a choice to participate in the devil’s ceremony of taking new converts. Mrs. Cloyse is the devil’s witch, yet people respect her for her stanch nature in church. Another weakness of humankind the narrative shows is apprehension. It worries Goodman his wife will find out he has a meeting with the devil (Predmore & Richard, 250). Goodman also worries while in the forest that Goody Cloyse will see him as he walks across the woods with the devil. Goodman hides when Cloyse and the devil speak to each other. The weakness of humans to go to the devil’s ceremony where he is taking new converts shows that humans have an easily led nature. Humans accept the devil to lure them into doing evil, yet they portray a religious nature to the society they live in.
The Salem society has a weakness in defeating evil and avoiding temptation. It is a religious society whose values come from the Faith the church teaches them. Believing in a doctrine opens one to consider teaching provided the person giving it is convincing. Goody Cloyse follows the church teachings as a duty. Many of the people in the Salem society hold her highly for being pious. They see her as a model to them. When Goodman sets up a rendezvous with the devil, he leaves his Faith (Kumra & Necat, 405). This occurs after the devil confronts him. In their meeting, Goodman tells the devil he is only there for the meeting, not his assets, and requests that he wants to go back and be with his family. His utterances show he has values he believes in and purposes to keep them. While in the forest, he hides from Goody Cloyse for fear she might see him with the devil.
We can see humans having strength or weakness in Faith through the ones who accept or refuse the devil’s influence. Goodman, at first, accepts the devil’s influence when he accepts to go to their rendezvous (Shaw, 321). This shows a weakness in Goodman, believing in the values of his Faith. Later Goodman does the things that are good and right and follows his Faith. While at the forest, despite taking himself to their meeting with the devil, his focus is on getting away from the devil. He shows concern about other people seeing him with the devil and hides from them. In the ceremony of taking new converts when Goodman realizes the second convert is his wife, he tries to convince her to show resistance to the devil. The actions by Goodman show his strength in his Faith.
People in Salem society are sinful. They are holding a ceremony to commemorate new converts joining the devil’s society. Sin in this society is profound. Gookin, who is a deacon at the church in Salem, attends the ceremony that the devil is hosting. This shows that the deacon has contact with the devil since he has an invitation to the ceremony. Another indicator is Goody Cloyse, whom the Salem society considers as pious yet is a witch working for the devil. Mrs. Cloyse teaches people in the Salem community religious matters. People trust her and look to her for guidance on spiritual values. Surprisingly, she follows the devil’s teachings.
Salem society, however, seems to rationalize sin. Upon getting to the place where the devil has set up for her ceremony to take place, Goodman sees different people that the Salem community respects taking part in this ceremony. It surprises him that even the Indian priests are part of the congregation, among other infamous personalities (Donahue, 31). When the call to parade new converts comes, Goodman notices his father making a gesture to him to move forward while his mother pulls him back. Goodman does not have time to think over his decision since Deacon Gookin hauls him to the sacred part. As he waits for what will happen next, Mrs. Cloyse brings another new convert. These actions prove that the Salem community accepts sin, but they do not show it outright.
Sin is something people embrace. It comes from a conviction to act in ways that do not agree with religious values or society’s morals. Salem society, therefore, has values that it spreads. The people with the mandate to spread such values are the church leaders. The devil understands this principle well. For the principle to work on his favor, he lures people who hold high positions in religious organizations like or a church or the people the society believes to be devout. Influencing such people to sin reduces their zeal to preach good morals. This explains why the devil is friends with Deacon Gookin, who leads the Salem church community and Goody Mrs. Cloyce, whom the society admires. Goodman goes to the meeting with the devil with no resistance. Faith goes to the ceremony of the devil’s new converts and converts with no resistance (Necat, 418). All these prove the weakness of humankind and how easy it is to lead them.
Some characters in the Salem community have deep roots for evil. The day after the devil hosts the ceremony to accept new converts, Salem Village goes on with its usual activities. Goodman meets the minister in the village who comes to bless him, yet the previous day he was with the devil planning a ceremony. To add to this, Goodman comes across Deacon Gookin, making a prayer (Tritt, 113). There are two possibilities in this scenario. Either the two are pretentious or evil has deep roots inside them. It is, however, clear that some characters’ practice good morals. Morality is a choice people make. Goodman accepts to go to his rendezvous with the devil but refuses to follow the devil’s ways. He says his visit to the forest is only to fulfill his promise to meet up with the devil. The utterance is proof that he values keeping the word he makes. This is a good virtue.
Goodman’s attendance at the ceremony the devil is hosting is unintentional. He attends after trying to pull his wife to prevent her from going to the ceremony (Predmore and Predmore, 255). Even after getting there unwillingly, he still persuades his wife to resist the devil’s influence, but he cannot convince her. The persistence that Goodman shows he values good morals and would not enjoy seeing others accepting to practice sin. After Goodman’s visit to this forest, he stops trusting all people in Salem village and stops believing the minister’s teachings. To him, they are misleading people, and thus listening to them would compromise his beliefs. Goodman does not show love to Faith as before since his trust for her reduced after the forest visit.
In the story, it is evident that once you leave the path of righteousness, it will be hard to find it. Brown took a while to trace his way back to his home town as a free man. People exercise their right to make choices by doing things that are good or bad. Most characters in “Young Goodman Brown” do evil things despite the church, teaching them good morals. Gookin is a deacon at the church in Salem, yet he is the one forcing Goodman to be a convert, to follow the devil and his sinful behavior. Goody Cloyse, in contrast, is teaching children and other people the ways of the church, yet she does not practice the teachings she is giving. The narrative describes Cloyse as a witch who works for the devil. She is present in the ceremony, the devil hosts to welcome new converts. These characters show how humankind has a weakness in making personal choices. It is easy to lure a person to follow a doctrine or act in sinful ways. All one requires is to have a unique way of convincing people to follow them and embrace their values and practices.
“’ ‘Young Goodman Brown’: Hawthorne’s ‘Devil in Manuscript’ ‘: A Rebuttal.” Studies in Short Fiction, by Karen Hollinger, vol. 19, Newberry College, 1982, p. 381. Academic Search Complete, proxygsu-toc1.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9268000&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
“Checking out Faith and Lust: Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and Updike’s ‘a&p.’” Studies in Short Fiction, by Patrick W. Shaw, vol. 23, Newberry College, 1986, p. 321. Academic Search Complete, proxygsu-toc1.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7358237&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
“Studies in Short Fiction.” Studies in Short Fiction, by Michael Tritt, vol. 23, Newberry College, 1986, p. 113. MasterFILE Elite, proxygsu-toc1.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=fth&AN=7702396&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
Eberwein, Jane Donahue. “My Faith Is Gone: ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and Puritan Conversion.” Christianity and Literature, vol. 32, no. 1, 1982, pp. 23–32. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, proxygsu-toc1.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000921463&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
Kumra, Necat. “Social Semiotics and EFL Pedagogy: A Semiotic Visit to the Enemy within the Heart of Young Goodman Brown.” Ekev Academic Review, vol. 15, no. 46, Jan. 2011, pp. 405–420. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, proxygsu-toc1.galileo.usg.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=a9h&AN=83752287&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
Predmore, Richard, and R Predmore. “’Young Goodman Brown.’ Night Journey into the Forest.” Journal of Analytical Psychology, vol. 22, no. 3, July 1977, pp. 250–257. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, DOI:10.1111/j.1465-5922.1977.00250. x. Accessed 6 Feb. 2020.
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