Analyze the title character's name in "Young Goodman Brown: how does it reveal his character?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"Young Goodman Brown" is a famous story largely because of its irony. Hawthorne demonstrates how apparently respectable people often have dark secrets. The title character's name does not reveal his character but definitely suggests how his neighbors regard him. He is regarded as a thoroughly upright, respectable man, a good husband and father, a pillar of the community. It turns out, however, that he is not going on a business trip but is on his way to a lurid devil-worshipping ceremony in the forest. This in itself is shocking to the reader, but there is an even greater shock in store. Young Goodman Brown discovers that the sweet little wife he left behind has somehow gotten to the satanic orgy ahead of him and is the leader of all the devil worshippers, most of them also respected fellow citizens, in attendance. Hawthorne excelled in scenic description, and his description of the scene in the wilderness with the trees lighted up by a bonfire and the humans behaving like wild animals is one of his best creations, which is one of the reasons that this story is so often anthologized. The name Young Goodman Brown is intended to give the reader the wrong initial impression of the protagonist's real character in order to surprise and shock the reader when Young Goodman Brown's hidden character is revealed. He is not necessarily completely wicked, but he is not completely good either. The fact that so many of his supposedly respectable neighbors are presents at the orgy underlines Hawthorne's thesis that many people wear masks, or personas, to appear more virtuous than they really are.

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