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IN Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," what do the pink ribbons represent?

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Brittany-peno... | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 27, 2013 at 3:12 PM via web

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IN Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown," what do the pink ribbons represent?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 28, 2013 at 7:29 AM (Answer #1)

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“Then God bless you!” said Faith, with the pink ribbons; “And may you find all well when you come back.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" examines an ambiguous time in history.  The government was led by religious authorities; consequently, every person's beliefs and actions were subject to criticism. 

Young Goodman Brown tells the devil in the forest that he was held back by "Faith"  when he comes to the meeting late. Obviously, Brown's statement refers to his wife Faith. The devil perceives that Brown, because of his religious faith, hesitated to meet with him and carry through with the plans [probably a sell your soul idea] that Hawthorne does not actually state in the story.  

The description of Faith Brown includes her pink ribbons.  The color pink has symbolically stood for innocence.   To Goodman Brown, his wife represented everything pure and good. Ribbons also imply a carefree spirit. 

 “With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” cried Goodman Brown.

When Goodman Brown sees the pink ribbon in the forest, he loses his faith both literally and figuratively.  

There was a scream...But something fluttered lightly down through the air and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.

“My Faith is gone!” cried he...“There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name."

Hawthorne used the ribbon to subtly reinforce the idea that Faith was a part of the satanic ritual.  This powerful symbol led Goodman Brown to divorce himself spiritual, emotionally, and physically from the rest of the townspeople.  Despite the fact that he remained with Faith and they had children, he was no longer the husband or man that Faith watched go into the forest. 

The ambiguity of the story centers on the reality of the events.  Did Goodman Brown dream or actually experience the meeting with the devil and seeing the other townspeople that he had respected? Hawthorne cleverly leaves the reader with many questions about the woodland happenings.  When Goodman Brown returns to town a bitter man, his wife has the same pink ribbons in her hair as before. Faith, at least to the outside world, maintains her innocent heart. 

Since Brown was so dependent on Faith for his religious grounding, he loses everything when he discovers the ribbons in the wood. This is the turning point for him.  He will never trust anyone again because the most important person in his life left him with doubt in his heart. That is the significance of the ribbons. 

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