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Young Goodman Brown

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Vilma Dominguez

Ms. Sechler

A.P Language and Composition

4 January 2016

Young Goodman Brown

The story Young Goodman Brown can be interpreted in many ways. One way that it can be seen is in terms of innocence. When a person is innocent they can also be seen as naïve. In this story the main character, Brown, is naïve. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author, had an unpleasant past which influences the way the story is written. His ancestors were involved with the Salem Witch Trials, which he was ashamed of, so he changed his last name to avoid the connection. Mentions of his past can be seen throughout the short story, so it is important to have some background knowledge. Hawthorne uses symbols throughout Young Goodman Brown to show that we as humans are born sinners, so it is inevitable that we will lose our innocence at some point and religion will not change that.

To begin, one symbol that is seen is the distinguished people at the alter scene, it is not a coincidence that everyone Brown faces on his journey are the important people like the Deacon or Goody Cloyse. When he sees this he starts to become deterred. For example, in the story it says, “That old women taught me my catechism’ said the young man and there was a world of meaning in this simple context” (Hawthorne 4). Brown feels like his whole life has been a lie, it is hard for him to wrap his head around why people he would have never expected to see were on that journey. Another example that can be seen is on page 4, “It vexed him the more because he could have sworn, were such a thing possible, that he recognized the voices of the Minister and Deacon Gookin” (Hawthorne 4). This sentence is very ironic because earlier in the story when Brown shows his doubt and also expresses his concern about being on the journey by admitting he was ashamed of going on the walk because he did not know how he would be able to face the Minister or Deacon Gookin. Continuing on, the devil also contributes to the start of his downfall when he says:

I have been as well acquainted with your family as ever a one among the puritans… I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker women so smartly through the streets of Salem… brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to and Indian village in King Phillips war. (Hawthorne 2)

He finds out his family, who he thought the world of, were not as great as he thought. They were affiliated with the devil as well. He also learns that if his if his family did not know the devil then the devil would not have known of Brown.

        To continue, his wife Faith can be seen as a symbol as well. Throughout the story he kept “turning back to faith.” An example that shows this is, “Being about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the head of Faith” (Hawthorne 1). It is not ironic that he turns back when he reaches the church. When he is there, he is reminded of his faith. This shows that Brown is still doubting.  He also goes on to say, “Faith kept me back a while” (Hawthorne 1). This sentence has a double meaning because he is not just referring to his wife but his religion as well. Brown has the option of going back to his religion but he does not, this shows he is iffy. In the story he also says, “There is my wife Faith. It would break her dear little heart: and I’d rather break my own” (Hawthorne 3). Brown always seems to go back to Faith in a moment of doubt. He does this continuously as the story progresses. Brown goes on to say, “With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil” (Hawthorne 5). This can be seen as the beginning of snowball effect. Brown is once again turning back to Faith.

        Also, the devil can be seen as a symbol of temptation. He tells Brown, “Take my staff if you are so soon weary” (Hawthorne 2). This can be seen as Brown’s first temptation. Brown is still doubtful about being on this journey so he does not take the staff. Later on in the story when Brown is able to resist another temptation he says, “The young man sat a few moments by the roadside, applauding himself greatly, and thinking how clear a conscience he should meet the Minister” (Hawthorne 4).  He is proud of himself for resisting the devil. Another example, can be seen in the quote, “Sit here and rest yourself a while, and when you feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along” (Hawthorne 4). The devil is speaking in this quote, and in the quote he phrases it with the word “when” instead of “if.” This leads us on to believe he knows something Brown does not. He knows that Brown will see something that will push him over the edge and make him take the staff.

        As well as, the devil being a symbol, the light and dark that is mentioned in the story can also be seen as symbolism. The light symbolizes safety and the darkness symbolizes evil or being unsafe.  An example would be when Brown says, “My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs ‘twixt now and sun rise” (Hawthorne 1). His journey needs to done at night, and darkness symbolizes evil. So Brown knows that the possibility needs to be taken advantage of during the time of day when evil lurks and when he knows he will not be seen.  In the quote, “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through” (Hawthorne 1). Hawthorne was very specific and uses detailed imagery, pertaining to darkness. This goes along with the Dark Romantic writing style. He also goes on to say, “Go to bed at dusk and no harm will come to thy” (Hawthorne 1). When it is dusk there is still some light, so it is not completely dark yet. The light signifies the safety that is able to be obtained during this time period.

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