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The narrator describes the fellow traveler's staff as  wriggling like a snake but then...

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pbrigham121 | Student | (Level 1) Honors

Posted June 11, 2013 at 4:12 AM via web

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The narrator describes the fellow traveler's staff as  wriggling like a snake but then says this movement must have been an ocular deception assisted by the uncertain light What is the effect of this and other instances of ambiguity in "Young Goodman Brown"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 11, 2013 at 11:11 AM (Answer #1)

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Haunted by his Puritan/Calvinistic ancestry, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes a tale with an ambiguity which creates doubt about the nature of man. Rejecting the surety of the Puritans whose tenets held that Adam and Eve's sin had damned most people for eternity, with only an elect who would attain heaven, Hawthorne blurs the lines of such tenets about the elect and the damned in "Young Goodman Brown."

Self-righteous and sure of his "Faith," Goodman Brown does not, at first, fear the path of temptation that he travels with the old "traveler." However, his certainly waivers as he believes that he perceives the old man's staff wriggling like a snake, so he tells himself, perhaps, that this movement has been a mere "ocular deception." Likewise, Goodman is very disturbed when he hears Goody Cloyse and Deacon Gookin. two upright members of the congregation. Then, when he sees Faith, his convictions that she is on the righteous path are truly shaken as the priest of the black mass sermonizes, 

Now ye undeceived.  Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again my children, to the communion of your race.

These words are the ultimate implication of the Puritan Calvinistic doctrine of predestination. And, as he exhorts Faith to "resist the wicked one," there is again ambiguity and Goodman finds himself away from the forest "staring about him like a bewildered man." Shaken from his convictions about the elect, Goodman learns of "misery unutterable" as he feels alone and shaken in his spiritual beliefs.

Thus, the ambiguity created in the story reflects the ambiguity of Goodman's mind. As one critic writes,

The power and appeal of the story are enhanced by scholarship that demonstrates that the plot is deceptive and the underlying conflicts much more complex and even more compelling than the surface narrative. 

This controlled ambiguity of Hawthorne's leads his readers to probe themselves into the darker regions of the human heart and to consider his subtle ironies that accompany this ambiguity.

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