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The Analogousness Of Hawthorne'S "The Birthmark" And "Young Goodman Brown"

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The Analogousness of Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown"

Carolyn Arbuckle


ENG 1120 I

University of Ottawa

Submitted To: Ross Clarkson

1 March, 2006

Nathaniel Hawthorne is a classic writer from the era of Gothic romanticism whose literary works transcend time to be relevant still today. His use of many literary devices and symbols creates universal and multi-dimensional works of writing. Two of his more notable pieces are "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown." While the characters and plot differ greatly, the symbolism behind each is quite analogous. Some parallels can be explained by the context in which each story is written, as the influences in Hawthorne's life are quite evidently reflected in his prose. Born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804, Hawthorne is greatly influenced by the Puritan community of his past. Most of his writings question or challenge the Puritan belief system which involves seeking purity and perfection down to the smallest detail, and fighting against indwelling sin. Not only does Hawthorne have convictions against these beliefs, he also feels guilt for the actions of his relatives who persecuted supposed "witches" during the Salem Witch Trials. It is for these reasons that Hawthorne chooses to call the Puritan lifestyle into question.

Hawthorne opts to contest Puritanism through his writings that involve consistent and extensive use of literary devices such as ambiguity, paradox, and foreshadowing. This technique allows the reader to be engaged while reading the stories, and induces personal reflection from the didactic writing. Strong symbolism is also revealed through different mediums to represent his recurring themes. In his work, Hawthorne has a propensity to represent man's struggle with faith, as well as the fall of man, through Biblical reference, or sometimes in more figurative ways. These themes are explored successfully by his characters, that often consist of a dominant male character who represents mankind, and a subordinate female character who provides a connection to a more spiritual world. Via his characters, symbols, and themes, Hawthorne provides insight into many of the great struggles plaguing mankind, making "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown" quite analogous.

The story of "The Birthmark," written in 1843, tells the story of a scientist named Aylmer, who has a lovely wife named Georgina. Men are invariably attracted to her, and find the birthmark that occupies her cheek very attractive. Aylmer, however, fixates on the birthmark so much so that he becomes revolted by it. He sees the birthmark as the sole flaw in his utterly perfect wife. Aylmer eventually convinces Georgina to allow him to remove the birthmark in his laboratory. He endeavours at length to eradicate the mark with no success and soon finds himself with only one option left. Aylmer gives Georgina a potion, which at first glance appears to be working positively as the birthmark begins to fade. However, the triumph soon turns to tragedy when Georgina dies as the last of the birthmark vanishes.

The story of "Young Goodman Brown" on the other hand, tells of a young, devout Christian man who leaves his wife, Faith, one night from their Salem, Massachusetts home to go on an expedition. While journeying through a dark and ominous forest, Brown is met by the devil in the form of a middle-aged man, who opens up Brown's eyes to his past and to those around him. Brown makes a feeble attempt to return to the village and to his Faith, but then chooses to continue on with his new acquaintance. He is told that everyone in his town is a witch and a worker for the devil himself. Still believing he can save himself from the harsh new reality exposed to him, Brown starts to pray. However, he is soon disrupted by a cloud of smoke and the sound of voices, which turn out to be a witch assembly composed of all the members in the town. Upon returning to Salem the next morning, Goodman Brown finds himself to be a changed man. He now doubts the righteousness of everyone in the town, including his wife, his neighbours, and the officials of church and state. Due to his experiences and the new knowledge he has acquired, Brown is in a permanent state of cynicism and lack of faith.

Both "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Birthmark" are short prose fiction stories from the Gothic romanticism era. This era was a reaction against rationalism and religion, or more specifically in Hawthorne's case, Puritanism. Gothic romanticism is concerned primarily with the darker aspects of the human mind, such as madness, obsession, and the fragmentation of the self. These stories are both allegorical as they function on both the literal and symbolic level, with ubiquitous themes. Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Birthmark" are exemplary moral allegories as the story interacts with the readers' life. They also speak to the assertion that humans should not attempt to "play God" and manipulate nature. When people destroy nature, they only destroy themselves. Furthermore, people must accept the inalienable truth that all humans are imperfect. Because of their allegorical nature, parallels in deep-rooted themes can be seen between Hawthorne's two stories.

The main themes in Hawthorne's works can all be related to the fall of man. He draws upon strong biblical reference to recreate the fall of man in both stories, by depicting man's inevitable move towards sin and his struggle with faith. It is shown that there are universal struggles faced by all men, and the allegorical idea of faith is evident in both stories. In "Young Goodman Brown" faith is represented both by Brown's faith in God and his wife named Faith. When Brown speaks of his wife Faith, it can be interchangeable with "faith in God."

"Often awakening suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith, and at morning on eventide, when the family had knelt down at prayer, he scowled, and muttered to himself, and gazed at his wife, and turned away." (Hawthorne, Young Goodman Brown 51).

The interchanging of Faith and faith is also shown when Goodman Brown is explicating what kept him from embarking on his evil journey sooner. "My Faith kept



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