What is the message presented by "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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

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“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne reveals the impact of society on people’s lives. The narration is provided with a third person omniscient point of view. The primary characters include a young Puritan and his wife Faith who have been married only three months. 

The story uses three events from history to add to the reality of the story:  1675 Indian and colonists fights; the Salem Witch trials of 1692; and the attempt to make illegal Quakerism.  These historical references are utilized to create an atmosphere making it feasible for the story’s events to happen.  The setting of the story Salem village has a dubious history.  This legacy integrates the historical roots of Goodman Brown’s fascination with the devil and the dark side.

There is no way to judge if the events in the forest really happened. What is apparent is that Brown functions as “every man” for Hawthorne. In many of his stories, Hawthorne emphasized the idea that man is continually tempted and is most likely to succumb to that temptation. Men are suspicious by nature, and curiousity often leads them down the wrong path. Representing society in general, Brown demonstrates that from Biblical time until the present day, man must fight the battle of “good versus evil.” Many times, evils finds the upper hand.

Before the story begins, the reader learns that Goodman Brown has made a decision to meet with the devil in the forest. His young wife begs him not to go. Basically, naïve in his understanding of human nature, Brown bases his religious beliefs on the inscrutability of those around him. He depends too much on other people and their incorruptibility.  Dismayed when he sees that others in his congregation have been perverted by this devil’s coven, Brown is forever changed.  

Hawthorne’s suggests that true religious beliefs come from the individual’s faith and relationship with God; and it should not be influenced by other people’s moral principles.  Goodman Brown’s faith becomes weakened when he suspicions that others around him are in league with the devil. 

Instead of strengthening his resolve and faith, Brown chooses to sever his relationships and loose his faith in his beloved Faith and even God. The themes that Hawthorne often wrote about include the failure of established religion and in particular Puritanism; furthermore, his stories nearly always offer up temptation to the main character who usually succumbs to that compulsion.

Goodman Brown then represents all men who go from the light of righteousness to the gloom of evil and moral decay.  Brown hears two men in the forest and recognizes their voices.  They are the minister of his church and Deacon Gookin who speaks:

Of the two reverend sir, I had rather miss an ordination dinner than to-night’s meeting.  They tell me that some of our community are to be here from beyond…Moreover, there is to be a goodly young woman to be taken into communion. 

This communication astounds Brown that such Godly men would cavort with the devil.  The devil tells Brown and Faith that their eyes will be opened to the evil around them.  Brown returns from the forest to find that all of his joy has been taken away. He becomes suspicious of everyone even the woman he loves.



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