4 Answers | Add Yours
Eachof these three approaches has merit. Because the other two have been explored in the previous answers, I'll address the mythological approach. The theme of "selling one's soul to the Devil" has appeared in literature for centuries, probably most famously in Dr. Faustus. This theme continues into our modern times with many famous musical artists rumored to have "sold their soul" in exchange for their virtuosic talent--everyone from Delta blues guitarist Robert Johnson to Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Hawthorne's depiction of the myth is curious, however, because we never know what it is that young Goodman Brown hopes to gain from his pact with the Devil or whether or not the encounter was anything more than just Goodman Brown's somewhat overactive imagination. What we do know is that Goodman Brown gains nothing from the adventure and, in fact, loses almost everything, including his "Faith." It's an interesting twist on an old myth told against the stark Puritanical beliefs of the story's setting.
Taking the psychological/spiritual approach in another direction, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" is an indictment against Puritanism, much as is his other story, "The Minister's Black Veil." The very ambiguity of the story is indicative of the ambiguity of Puritanism in which one never knows whether they are among the "elect" or the "damned."
The sanctimonious Brown, of course, believes that he is one of the "elect," boasting of his ancestors who were righteous men and feeling himself "justified" in taking his journey. However, when his Faith/faith is tested, the irony of Goodman Brown's name emerges as the old traveler recognizes the hypocrisy in Brown:
'Ha! ha! ha!'shouted he agains and again; then composing himself, 'Well, go one, Goodman Brown, go on; but prithee, don't kill me with laughting.'
Goody Cloyse, a witch herself, recognizes Goodman Brown as he resembles his wicked grandfather. Yet, Brown thinks himself guiltless as he "happily turned from it [his guilty purpose of coming into the forest]. As he confronts his own faith when his Faith is brought into the Black Mass, Brown self-righteously contends that he will "yet stand firm against the devil!" But, it is his own guilt that blinds him and makes him hypocritical. Faced with his Puritan-Calvinistic conflict, Goodman Brown becomes the hoary hypocrite who, in his own secret sin, sees sin in all others.
I think the psychological/spiritual approach works best for this story. It's about the inability of Brown to deal with the less that perfect. He saw all those around him as better than he was; when he found out that they were just "normal," a mixture of good/bad, he was unable to accept them as they are, not as he thought they were. (This, of course, begs the question of what really happened in the woods, which I think was just a dream ... but it affects him as though it were real, so it doesn't make that much difference.)
The "journey," moving from childhood perceptions to more adult ones, clearly seems to be a psychological one, and I would go with that interpretation.
This would be a question for the discussion board for this group. In my opinion, the best approach would be a historical approach due to the rich history of the setting in the story.
We’ve answered 317,747 questions. We can answer yours, too.Ask a question