What are some similarities and differences between Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and the opening chapter of Melville's Moby-Dick?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Various similarities and differences (but mostly differences) exist between Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” and Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. Here are a few of the similarities:

  • Both works are set, at least initially, in New England.
  • Both works focus on journeys made by young men.
  • Both young men have names that prove to be symbolic.

Here, however, are a number of significant differences:

  • Melville’s Ishmael narrates his own journey; Brown’s journey is reported by a narrator.
  • Ishmael, at the time of his journey, is apparently unmarried; this is not true of Brown.
  • Ishmael, in the very first paragraph of the novel, displays an attractive sense of humor; Brown is rather humorless throughout his tale. Ishmael is the more complex of the two characters.
  • Ishmael, at first, is much more isolated than Brown. Brown meets a companion in the forest and meets other acquaintances along the way, while Ishmael is initially much more of a loner.
  • Ishmael will be journeying out onto the sea, while Brown will be journeying into the forest.
  • Brown never seems to have journeyed much beyond his small town before, whereas Ishmael is familiar with the large city of New York.
  • We are offered very little insight, at first, into what Brown may be thinking; Ishmael, in contrast, is speculative and openly reflective right from the start.
  • Because Brown does not narrate his own story, he has no opportunity to address the reader, whereas Ishmael addresses his readers in the very first sentences of the story, as if beginning an extended exchange with them:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

  • Brown’s story deals quite explicitly with matters of good and evil, whereas the focus on good and evil in Melville’s novel is not especially stressed in the very first chapter.
  • The style of Hawthorne’s story is fairly obviously symbolic and allegorical right from the start; the first chapter of Moby-Dick, however is more convincingly and deliberately realistic.

Other contrasts might easily be listed, but these are enough to indicate some of the significant differences between the two works.


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