Analyze "Young Goodman Brown" by historical and biographical approach.Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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According to Hyatt H. Waggoner, author of a biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hawthorne

continued to note in himself, and to disapprove, feelings and attitudes he projected in . .. "Young Goodman Brown." He noted his tendency not only to study others with cool objectivity, but to study himself with almost obsessive interest.

The Puritan values that inspired Hawthorne's close observation of people and events contributed to his genius as a writer. For, his Puritan gloom determines the dark atmosphere of many of his narratives as well as the overriding shadow of Calvinism which generates a certain pessimism about man.  It is this mixture of objectivity and Puritan gloom which creates the ambiguity that is present in "Young Goodman Brown."  Did Brown witness Faith give herself up to the devil, or did something happen within his heart?

The setting of Hawthorne's challenging story is a result of the tremendous historical influence of the Salem Witch Trials.  Even in Hawthorne's time, the nineteenth century, New England was yet reeling from the guilt of ancestry about such a hysterical time period, while at the same time it rebelled against the Calvinistic morals that were so constrictive. Goodman tells his wife he is going into the forest primeval "just this one night" because he wishes to challenge the devil, challenge the Calvinistic belief in the depravity of man.  Yet, as the traveller in the person of the old man with the serpentine staff hints at his recognition of the darkness of Goodman's soul, Brown claims his innocence and goodness.  Certainly, Hawthorne, whose ancestor  served as a judge in the Salem Trials, examines this dichotomy in his story with Goodman Brown as the personage who represents the conflict of guilt and rebellion.  Indubitably, art imitates life in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown."

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