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The story of Young Goodman Brown demonstrates Nathaniel Hawthorne's disdain for hypocrisy disguised as piety. His attitude stems from the fact that his great-great-grandfather, Judge John Hathorne presided over the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, and Hawthorne so wished to distance himself from the memory of his ancestor that he added the "w" to his last name. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, Young Goodman Brown goes into the woods, knowing that he will meet up with the devil. What he does not expect is that he will meet nearly every person that he believed to be upstanding Puritan citizens of the town. Even his wife, Faith, has joined in the "celebration" in the woods, and with the realizastion that evil could exist even in those he thought had the purist of hearts, Goodman Brown exclaims that his "Faith is gone!" This story reflects how Nathaniel Hawthorne believed the Puritans of Salem to be hypocrites, much like those who participated in the mayhem that took place during the Witch Trials.
The story demonstrates that evil is the nature of mankind in two ways: first, Brown is evil in rejecting his faith (Faith) that people can also be good; and second by the fact all people in the story participate in evil in some way. This fact, however, does not cancel the fact that people might also be good. What the devil does not say is that “goodness is also the nature of mankind,” but the lives the people in the village lead demonstrate this. It is not that they are hypocrites; rather they are both good and evil, for such is the real human condition as a result of our fall from Paradise (within the context of the theme of the story). Hawthorne wants us to understand this dualism in which we all share: we are simultaneously good and evil, and to reject one or the other results in alienation from the greater community of humankind. Not to accept this results in distrust, and not to realize the possibilities of our “dark side” results in hypocrisy. These—alienation from others and hypocrisy—are, in Hawthorne’s view, the greatest sins.
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