What direction should I go in my comparison research paper of "The Minister's Black Veil" and "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne?I have to write a 6 to 8 page research paper on basically...

What direction should I go in my comparison research paper of "The Minister's Black Veil" and "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

I have to write a 6 to 8 page research paper on basically any literary work that I would like.  I have chosen to compare "The Minister's Black Veil" and "Young Goodman Brown," but I am having a hard time coming up with a thesis and finding criticism as sources.  Anyone have any ideas on a direction I could go with this?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

First of all, take advantage of this site as there are numerous questions and answers on these two works.  Then, there are summaries, discussions of theme, characters, etc. as well as criticisms that should generate ideas for you.

Then, here is another suggestion:  Both stories deal with the flaws that exist in the Puritan culture--an obsession of Hawthorne.  So, you may wish to research Hawthorne's background, one in which an uncle appears who was a judge in the Salem Witchcraft Trials.  As a result of having this relative, Hawthorne seems to have felt guilt, and, seeking a resolution to his puzzlement as to how someone could be involved in such a debacle, Hawthorne looked into the past and his Puritan background, studying the flaws of this rigid and Calvinistic religion.  One of the problems with Puritanism was in distinguishing the "elect" from the "damned" and the innocent from the corrupt.  Since there was no way of knowing who was among the elect, sin was severely punished.  Consequently, people did not admit to their transgressions for fear of punishment and ostracism, or even death.

Because, then, of the prevalence of what Hawthorne called "secret sin," people were suspect of one another.  This condition of suspicion is a motif in both "Goodman Brown" and "The Minister's Black Veil."  So damaging is this lack of faith in others and suspicion, that it destroys both the main characters, Goodman Brown and the Reverend Hooper.  For, Brown becomes

a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man...from the night of that fearful dream [the visit to the dark forest where he witnessed the Black Mass]

and the Reverend Hooper is ostracized by his congregation and rejected by his own fiance out of their fear of exposure because he will not remove the veil until

...'the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best-beloved; when man does not vaily shrink from the eye of his creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin....'


Also, since yours is to be a research paper, you can use the information gleaned from your research on Hawthorne to explicate Hawthorne's examination of the applications of Puritanism in the lives of real people*as well as fictional characters who are representative of real Puritans.  If you have a page or so of background on Puritanism and its Calvinistic influences as an introduction to the application of these principles to Hawthorne's theme and its supporting motifs, there will be 6-8 pages with no problem.  Go into depth on one element only (e.g. theme) as your paper will be unified and more meaningful than if you try to cover more aspects.  And, if you analyze character--as you really must to some extent--be careful that it is only to demonstrate how the character helps to advance the theme for Hawthorne.


*Goody Cloyse and Deacon Gookin were real Puritans who participated in the Salem Witchcraft trials.


lynnebh's profile pic

lynnebh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

How about comparing the two stories as far as theme? They both deal with the issue of guilt and hypocrisy. In both short stories, the main characters are hiding behind "veils" of sorts to hide their sins. The minister wears an actual veil, but Young Goodman Brown lives behind a type of invisible veil (as an outcast) after meeting up with the devil. Both of these stories are allegories.

I would also include information about the types of themes that were common in Hawthorne's works; evil, guilt, sin, Puritan hypocrisy, etc. Hawthorne uses many similar motifs and rich symbolism in both stories, so you could bring these in as well.

Read the information about these two stories right here on enotes and perhaps you will find other ideas to explore. The information about Hawthorne in the analysis of The Scarlet Letter on enotes also has helpful information. Good luck.

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