Is "Young Goodman Brown" an Initiation Story?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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According to Litweb glossary, an initiation story is "one in which a character--often a child or young person--first learns a significant, usually life-changing truth about the universe, society, people, himself or herself."

While Young Goodman Brown's initial state is somewhat altered by his witness of the Black Mass in the dark forest where he "loses his Faith" and he becomes confirmed in the belief of the depravity of man and his impossibilty for redemption, Brown does not learn a significant truth about either others or himself.  Rather, he is simply initially deluded about himself; then, after his experiences, he continues this delusion. The ambiguity of the conclusion of the experience in the forest underscores the continuing ambiguity in the mind of Brown about himself as a Christian.

Returning to the expostion of Hawthorne's story, the reader will see that Brown is ambivalent in his self-assurance as a Christian.  Brown crosses "the threshold" between himself and Faith, who "talks of dreams" suggesting the unrealistic attitude that Brown has.  Ironically, he remarks to himself ," Poor little Faith!...for his heart smote him....after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven."  These words certainly suggest his tenuous hold onto faith, at best, as he crosses the threshold into the Puritan concept of depravity.

That he is deluded is in the next lines:  "Goodman Brown felt himself justified in...his present evil purpose."  And, it is not coincidence that the devil/old man who escorts him resembles Goodman Brown.  With his unredemptive attitude, Brown expects evil: 

'There may be a deviish Indian behind every tree....What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow?'

True to human nature, Brown realizes his expectations of himself.  And, true to his deluded sense of righteousness, he does not recognize the sin and depravity within himself,  instead projecting this sin upon the others:

A sad...a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream....his dying hour was gloom.

As a result of his dream/experience, Goodman Brown learns no truth about himself.  He is merely confirmed in his delusions and perceives evil around him as he does in the beginning; he sees no redemptive powers and is also confirmed in his Puritan belief in the depravity of man, a belief that leaves his life empty and dark. Although his life may have been altered, Young Goodman Brown learns no truth about the universe, society, people, or himself.


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