Darkness from Within: Analyzing Hawthorne’s Essay
Darkness from Within: Analyzing Hawthorne’s
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is a chilling exploration of how a man could project upon others his own darkness. Through a pact with the Devil, Goodman Brown becomes obsessed with the supposed sins of the townspeople. Hawthorne utilized many symbolisms to depict how Goodman Brown transformed into “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become” (91). To use a word descriptive of many people today, Goodman Brown became a cynic. So when he died, the townspeople “carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom” (92).
At the start of the story, Goodman Brown was a naive young man who has just been married. He has a dream in which he sees all the best people in the village, including his wife. Presumably, in his experience with sex in his newly-married state, the sexuality — the human quality — of everyone, including his wife, his parents, his minister, and his teachers, dawns on him in a traumatic way in that he has always been taught by his Puritan teachers that the flesh is sinful. However, Goodman Brown had seen both the best and the worst in human nature.
In this process, Goodman loses his “faith” and his love and chooses to believe the worst. The story did not tell everything as easy because readers are enjoined to assume that Goodman Brown’s former innocence had been derived from ignorance, as knowledge comes to him with so much intensity that he is not able to excuse himself for the ignorance that he had. And he blames everyone else because none of them told him these things before. In short, he wants to have had divine knowledge, and he thus challenges the way of things in every respect. Just by being human, people he sees through his loveless eyes transform into witches.
Those who have this loveless view of others have already, ironically, partaken of the devil’s baptism. Like Brown, they forever after will be “more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be of their own” (91). Reading “Young Goodman Brown” is a good motivation for examining point of view — the way we see other people. The result is a reversal of roles between good and evil, which is like the reversal that occurred after the hysteria of 1692 whereby the “witches” were perceived as martyrs and the accusers and condemners were seen as persecutors.
Hawthorne is interested in what people’s points of view and judgment tell us about them, so the focus in the discussion of witchcraft is primarily on those who see witchcraft in others. The story is rich in symbolisms thst make up what it lacks in physical descriptions, which contributes to its reader’s puzzlement that more often becomes fear. In the story, we only know that Faith has a “pretty head” (83); that Goodman Brown is young; that Goody Cloyse is “a female figure” (85) who cackles; that Martha Carrier is “a rampant hag” (90); that the crowd in the forest is “a grave and dark-clad company” (89).
The reason why Hawthorne avoids particulars in this story is because the unreality and vagueness increase the nightmarish atmosphere of the story. For instance, why is Faith’s “pink ribbons” is mentioned five times in all? What is the meaning of the appearance of the ribbons in the woods? It would seem to be a concrete evidence that something bad occurred to her. Fogle (1964, p. 18) suggested otherwise: “If Goodman Brown is dreaming the ribbon may be taken as part and parcel of his dream. . .
This pink ribbon appears in his wife’s hair once more as she meets his on his return to Salem the next morning”. For me, what’s more frightening in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is not the devil, the witchcraft or even Brown’s solitary walk through the forest at dusk, but it is the contrast between Brown’s innocence and the evil that he comes to learn is hidden in his very own community.
Fogle, Robert Harter. Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light and Dark (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1964). Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown”