How does Hawthorne illustrate hypocrisy in "Young Goodman Brown" of the Puritans?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Irony, the contrast between what is expected and what actually happens or is said, appears in its different forms throughout Hawthorne's story, "Young Goodman Brown."  In fact, even the title of this story is ironic, representing from the beginning the hypocrisy often found in the Puritan. Here are some examples:

  • After telling Faith that he will just go out this one night, "With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown feels himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose."  In his Puritan sanctimony, Brown thinks nothing will happen to him when he attends the black mass in the forest.
  • When the old man calls to him, Brown explains that "Faith kept me back a while."  At the end of the story, Brown, who has admitted to abandoning his faith, sees all others as faithless.
  • Goodman Brown tells his fellow-traveler that his father never went into the woods

"on such as errand, nor his father before him.  We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs." 

But, the old man, who knows the hypocrisy of the Browns, tells Young Goodman that he had helped his grandfather when he   lashed the Quaker woman, and he was with Brown's father     when he set fire to the Indian village.  Brown's ancestors obviously were hypocrites to have said that they never went into the woods.
  • The man with the crooked staff is also acquainted with many a deacon who has had communion with him at the black mass in the forest.  Goodman Brown asks how this can be so.  Nevertheless, he says, he cannot continue, for if the governor should see him, he could not face him.  To this the "elder traveller" replies, having recognizing the hypocrisy of his remark,

"Ha! ha!ha!...Well, go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but prithee, don't kill me with laughing!"

  • When Goody Cloyse and Deacon Gookin pass by, Goodman is shocked that they will attend the black mass because Cloyse is his catechism teacher.  In an act of verbal irony, Goody Cloyse tells the elder traveller that Goodman Brown is really a silly fellow--just the opposite of what Brown expects her to say.
  • The climax is ironic, of course, as Goodman worries that harm will come to Faith, when it is he who loses his faith in mankind as he becomes " a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man" after that night of what he believes is his dream.  Ironically in the resolution of the story, Goodman Brown also becomes the hypocrite in seeing others as having no faith, gazing sternly at his wife and turning away from her.


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