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“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story about revealing true evil and the loss of one man’s faith. Nathaniel Hawthorne left “Young Goodman Brown” up for many interpretations. After reading the story a couple of times, one thing became clear. What was absorbed from this story was that evil exists in everyone, does not matter how good we may think we are. Things aren’t always what they seem. I say this because the people who attended the devil’s meetings, were the ones who attended church with him.
The people whom he though were holy and Christian. These people were not holy at all. They were worshipping, praying, and obeying the devil. As Goodman Brown started his journey into the forest, he met an older man. The old man, “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” (DiYanni, 273).
In Brown’s ignorance, he does not realize that the one he is with is in fact the devil. This is shown when Brown asks a question in fear before meeting the old man, “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!” (DiYanni, 273).
This to me is ironic because then, “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”(DiYassi, 273). Here Goodman Brown does not realize that the devil is, in fact, walking “side by side with him”(DiYassi,273). “Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual advisor” (DiYassi, 275). This dames name was Goody Cloyse. When Brown sees that Goody Cloyse recognizes the old man and cries out, “the devil” (DiYassi, 275), he can’t believe it. He now sees her as a “wretched old woman” (DiYassi, 276). Brown is feeling his loss of faith and tries to overcome this by saying, “What if a wretched old woman does choose to go to the devil, when I though she was going to heaven! Is that any reason to leave my dear Faith behind, and go after her?” (DiYassi, 276). Though Brown is disappointed, he has not yet lost his faith. Goodman Brown finds his faith disrupted, once again, when he observes the minister and deacon secretly from behind a tree. These two “holy men” (DiYanni, 276) are the two people that Brown admires; they are the spiritual leaders of the community. As Goodman Brown listens to their discussing the unholy meeting Brown becomes “faint and over-burthened with the heavy sickness of his heart” (DiYanni, 276). At this point he was in doubt of his faith, but in a struggle to keep his faith he says, “With heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” (DiYanni, 277). “Faith”, Goodman Brown’s wife, is his faith in God. Brown loses all faith in God, but he believes that he is better than everyone else. Showing his pride and ignorance. This was Goodman Brown’s downfall. Critics tend to focus on different scenes from stories.
This critic, Bert A.Mikosh, focuses on his view of “Young Goodman Brown”. “The story “Young Goodman Brown” is about a man and his faith in himself, his wife, and the community they reside in. Goodman Brown must venture on a journey into the local forest refuse the temptation of the devil and return to the village before sunrise. The time era is approximately a generation after the time of the witch trials” (Mikosh). He leads on by saying, “The lead character is happy with the locals and his faith until this trip, when he is convinced they are all evil. Upon this discovery he, in a sense, becomes evil” (Mikosh). Bert continues in writing, “When Goodman comes back he thinks he is better than the rest and judges everyone instantly. He then comes to the conclusion that he is the only person that is not a devil worshiper. Just as before with the witch trials, he is judging then as the so-called witches were judged by his ancestors. A reference to Martha Carrier is made in the story, Goodman’s predicament is similar to his. She was isolated from the community because of her beliefs just like Goodman. The difference is that Martha’s community isolated her, and Goodman felt isolated or isolated himself” (Mikosh). This was a very interesting point. Bert ends by stating this, “The views and beliefs of people of that era were if anything to an extreme. Whatever they believed they worshipped with a vengeance.
This extreme faith can be compared to the current time “Career Goal.” If the people today cannot pursue a career and succeed, the feel as if their life has no meaning” (Mikosh). I don’t agree 100% but I understand what he is trying to say. “This most likely has its roots from the Protestant work ethic. The ethic, in general, says that you must work hard to please God and complete for a place in heaven. This story is about such people. The modern day person has taken this work ethic and given it a greedy twist. People of today fight for position, status or power just as much as the pioneer puritans worshiped and studied the bible. The puritans would take the word of the bible as the word, without interpretation, only translation by the minister of the community. Although these career driven people do not have a book to guide their path, they pursue it none the less. Some of these people have lost, or never had the belief, of reaching heaven, or even its existence. These people are the peers of the believers and set the rules or guidelines for career goals. So in effect the status in the community is a way of saying they are better. The people who do not believe in any god-like being fight in an effort to make their mark on the world, for this is the only way they can be recognized or remembered” (Mikosh). This is his view of “Young Goodman Brown”. Another critic is Joan Elizabeth Easterley who focuses on the lachrymal imagery in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”. “Literary critics have interpreted the significance of Goodman Brown’s experience in many fashions–allegorical, moral, philosophical, and psychological.
However there is an intriguing absence of any reference to the last line of the Sabbath scene to explain Hawthorne’s characterization of the young Puritan, despite the fact that Hawthorne signals the importance of the cold drops of dew in a periodic sentence. In essence, Hawthorne here carefully delineates the image of a young man who has faced and failed a critical test of moral and spiritual maturity” (Easterley). “Young Goodman Brown is reproached by his creator because he shows no compassion for the weaknesses he sees in others, no remorse for his own sin, and no sorrow for his loss of faith. The one action that would demonstrate such deep and redemptive human feelings does not take place. Goodman Brown does not weep. Therefore, Hawthorne quietly and gently sprinkles “the coldest dew” on his cheek to represent the absence of tears” (Easterley). “The 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. A meticulous artist and a master of symbolism, Hawthorne uses the twig and the dewdrops deliberately. Drops of water on a man’s cheek suggest tears” (Easterley). “On a moral level, Brown’s acceptance of others as they are–imperfect and subject to temptation– would have made a mature adulthood and productive and healthy relationships with others possible. But his lack of remorse and compassion, as symbolized by the absence of tears, condemns him to an anguished life that is spiritually and emotionally desiccated. The drops that Hawthorne places on Brown’s cheek are of “the coldest dew,” devastating in their connotation, for they represent the coldness of a soul that is dying, in contrast to the regenerative warmth of true tears and love” (Easterley). “Human tears are an emotional response, and Hawthorne’s allusion to the lack of tears underscores Brown’s emotional barrenness.
Critical analyses have hitherto focused primarily on Brown’s faulty or immature moral reasoning, arguing that the puritan fails the test of the Sabbath because he fails to reason on a mature moral level, either because of the legalism of Puritan doctrine or because of his refusal to admit his own sinfulness (Frank 209, Folsom 32, Fogle23, Stubbs 73) (Easterley). Joan Elizabeth Easterley has opened my eyes. It is interesting to see different views on one story. To wrap up her essay, she ends it by saying, “Nathaniel Hawthorne, the master of symbolism and suggestion, softly sprinkles cold tears on the cheek of young Goodman Brown. This lachrymal image, so delicately wrought, is the key to interpreting the young Puritan’s failure to achieve moral and spiritual maturity. Brown cannot reconcile the conflict caused by his legalistic evaluation of others, nor can he transcend this moral dilemma by showing compassion and remorse. In final irony, Hawthorne tells us that the man who sheds no tears lives the rest of his life a “sad” man, whose “dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne, 90)(Easterley). “Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, the descendent of a long line of Puritan ancestors. After his father was lost at sea when he was only four, his mother became overly protected and pushed him toward more isolated pursuits. Hawthorne’s childhood left him overly shy and bookish, and molded his life as a writer. Hawthorne turned to writing after his graduation from Bowdoin College” (Classic Notes by Gradesaver). “In June, 1849, Hawthorne was discharged from his three yearlong job with Salem Custom House. He was forty five years old, and although starting to gain a reputation as a writer, remained unable to support himself from writing alone.
To make the tragedy even worse, only a few weeks later his mother passed away. Hawthorne fell ill as a result of the difficulties he was facing” (Classic Notes by Gradesaver). “Upon his recovery late in the summer, Hawthorne sat down to write The Scarlet Letter. He zealously worked on the novel with determination he had not known before. His intense suffering infused the novel with imaginative energy, leading him to describe it as the “hell-fired story.” On February 3. 1850, Hawthorne read the final pages to his wife. He wrote, “It broke her heart and sent her to bed with a grievous headache, which I took upon as a triumphant success” (Classic Notes by Gradesaver). “Hawthorne was deeply devoted to his wife, Sophia Peabody, and his two children. Hawthorne, though, had little engagement with any sort of social life. Hawthorne passed away on May 19, 1864 in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Emerson described his life with the words “painful solitude.” Hawthorne’s classic remains one of the most cleanly composed works of American fiction” (Classic Notes by Gradesaver).
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