Transformation in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

Categories: Nathaniel Hawthorne


Nathaniel Hawthorne's renowned short story, "Young Goodman Brown," takes readers on a compelling journey into the depths of Puritan society, where themes of faith, good and evil, and the loss of innocence are intricately woven into the narrative fabric. Set in the 1600s, this tale follows the protagonist, Goodman Brown, as he embarks on a fateful journey into the woods, where he encounters the devil and becomes initiated into a sinister circle of darkness. This essay will meticulously dissect the final paragraph of the story, delving into Hawthorne's deliberate use of literary devices such as word choice, diction, sentence structure, tone, and theme to effectively depict Goodman Brown's profound transformation.

By closely examining these literary elements, we aim to gain deeper insight into the character's evolution and the overarching message conveyed in this timeless piece of literature.

I. The Significance of Word Choice and Diction

The opening line of the final paragraph sets the tone for the story's conclusion: Be it so if you will; but, alas! It was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown (Hawthorne 648). The diction in this passage not only immerses the reader in the historical context of the 1600s but also emphasizes the formality and eloquence of the era. Words such as fervid and alas reflect the rich vocabulary of the time, enhancing the narrative's authenticity.

Furthermore, Hawthorne's choice of words infuses the story with religious undertones. Phrases like blasphemer, saint-like, and congregation evoke biblical connotations, underscoring the centrality of religion in Puritan society.

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These words not only highlight the religious backdrop but also foreshadow the moral struggle that Goodman Brown will face.

The climax of the story, set in the eerie forest, introduces darker connotations into the narrative. As the tale unfolds, the reader witnesses the transformation of seemingly innocent elements, such as listening to a sermon, into malevolent symbols. Words like deaths, dreading, pale unutterable misery, and thunder convey a sense of despair and darkness, illustrating the protagonist's internal turmoil and fear.

II. Exploring the Theme of Innocence versus Evil

Throughout the story, Hawthorne masterfully explores the theme of innocence versus evil, vividly portraying Goodman Brown's gradual descent into darkness. One pivotal moment that exemplifies this theme occurs during a church service when Goodman Brown cannot focus on the holy psalm being sung because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain (Hawthorne 648). This passage vividly illustrates how the protagonist's internal struggle transforms a previously innocent and sacred act into something tainted by evil.

The author skillfully conveys the contrast between innocence and evil by employing descriptive language and sentence structure. For instance, when Goodman Brown reflects on his inner turmoil during the sermon, Hawthorne uses lengthy sentences and multiple commas to emphasize the magnitude of Brown's distress. This sentence structure mirrors the character's chaotic thoughts and inner conflict, accentuating his transformation from a devout believer to a tormented soul.

III. The Impact of Sentence Structure and Punctuation

Hawthorne's use of punctuation and sentence length plays a significant role in shaping the story's message. In one notable sentence, the author employs six commas to depict Goodman Brown's anguish as he sits in church and listens to the sermon. This abundance of commas underscores the overwhelming nature of the character's emotions and inner turmoil, offering a glimpse into the depths of his despair.

Additionally, Hawthorne's careful choice of sentence structure and punctuation underscores the author's message. By using four commas in a single sentence, he captures the reader's attention, drawing them into Brown's swirling thoughts of struggle, turmoil, and repulsion. This technique effectively communicates the magnitude of the character's internal conflict and transformation.

IV. The Loss of Faith and Trust in Society

As the story unfolds, the reader witnesses not only Goodman Brown's loss of faith but also his diminishing trust in society and his wife, Faith. Initially, Brown holds his wife in high regard, referring to her as a blessed angel on earth (Hawthorne 639). This characterization conveys his deep love and admiration for her. However, as the story progresses, Brown's perception of Faith undergoes a dramatic change.

Upon returning from his journey into the forest, Brown no longer responds to his wife's excitement with warmth but instead looks at her sternly and sadly, without offering a greeting (Hawthorne 648). This shift in his attitude towards Faith is indicative of his growing distrust and suspicion, as he now sees her through a different, more cynical lens.

The final paragraph of the story reinforces the idea that Brown's transformation is permanent. It describes how, in his old age, he is followed to his grave by Faith, an aged woman, children, grandchildren, and neighbors. Yet, despite this attendance, there is no hopeful verse carved on his tombstone. This absence of a Bible verse implies that his negative reputation within the community endured, even in death.

V. Conclusion

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," the final paragraph serves as a culmination of the story's exploration of faith, evil, and transformation. Through his careful selection of word choice, diction, sentence structure, tone, and theme, Hawthorne effectively portrays Goodman Brown's evolution from a devout believer to a tormented soul. The juxtaposition of innocence and evil, the impact of punctuation and sentence structure, and the loss of faith and trust in society all contribute to the narrative's depth and complexity.

Ultimately, "Young Goodman Brown" serves as a powerful commentary on the consequences of succumbing to doubt and mistrust in a deeply religious society. It reminds us that our beliefs and perceptions can shape our reality and that the journey into the unknown can have profound and lasting effects on our faith and relationships. Hawthorne's masterful storytelling and rich use of literary devices make this tale a timeless exploration of the human psyche and the enduring struggle between good and evil.

Updated: Nov 02, 2023
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Transformation in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown". (2017, Jan 20). Retrieved from

Transformation in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" essay
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