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What is the treatment of faith in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "Young Goodman Brown"?

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Jessica Gardner | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted June 19, 2013 at 2:57 PM via web

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What is the treatment of faith in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "Young Goodman Brown"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 21, 2013 at 2:04 AM (Answer #1)

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In both "Young Goodman Brown" and "Good Country People" the main characters, Goodman Brown and the grandmother, assume that they are good Christians who will attain heavenly reward when they die.  While Hawthorne examines the Puritanical/Calvinistic tenets that have stringent, albeit nebulous ones, parameters with which Goodman cannot find redemption, Flannery O'Connor affords her character the opportunity for grace with which to redeem herself.

In the beginning, though, both Goodman Brown and the grandmother set forth on their trips convinced that they are righteous people. Confident that he is among the elect, Brown ventures forth on a journey into the forest primeval, telling his wife Faith that he must go just one time; for he feels he must confront evil and test himself so that he can return knowing that he is, indeed, saved. Likewise, the grandmother departs, feeling secure enough in her Christian faith  to dress up in case her family and she suffer a fatal wreck. When her son Bailey stops for lunch at The Tower where Red Sammy Butts manages the eatery, she commiserates sanctimoniously, much like Goodman Brown, with Red Sam who says that "[A] good man is hard to find." 

As the two narratives continue, the main characters of both stories find their spiritual confidence challenged. Confronted by the hypocrisies of Deacon Gookin and Goody Cloyse, who taught him his catechism, Goodman Brown questions the sanctity of those believed to be among the elect. Then, when he sees his wife Faith, he cries out, but her pink ribbons merely waft to the ground from the air. In a dremlike state, he loses his consciousness, but wakes, disillusioned and bereft in his faith. Henceforth, it is a 

A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man...from the night of that fearful dream.

For, Goodman believes only in the "misery unutterable" of man and has lost his faith in believing himself among the elect. Consequently,"his dying hour was gloom."

Without tangible proofs, there is a rejection of God by Goodman Brown. Much like him is O'Connor's Misfit, a former gospel singer, who complains that "Jesus thown everything off balance" because Convicted for no reason without documentation, the Misfit says he was never shown evidence. Since there is no rational reason for things, the Misfit has lost his faith, as has Goodman. Even when he shoots the grandmother, the Misfit finds "no real pleasure in life."

Ironically, however, the grandmother, once so staunch in her sense of Christian righteousness, and shaken by the encounter with the criminals who kill her son and family, is redeemed in her darkest hour when she learns that she, too, is a sinner. For, in her epiphany, there is a "moment of grace," as the she sees the Misfit's twisted face near hers and, recoginizing her sinfulness, says softly, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" reaching for his shoulder. In this violent moment of grace in which she has learned that she,too, is a sinner, the grandmother is saved spiritually. 

With the characters of Young Goodman Brown and the Misfit, faith alone is not sufficient to save them, nor can they simply be chosen by God. Goodman Brown has not lost his faith; instead, he has learned the terrible significance of the doctrine of predestination. But, in her Catholicism, it is opportunity for grace that saves the Christian, O'Connor tells the reader. 

 

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