With reference to Hawthorne's story, why did the Puritans believe that the Devil was real?"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The basic tenets of Puritanism are connected with the beliefs of John Calvin who held that humanity is inherently evil; this "depravity of man" is a result of the sin in the Garden of Eden. As the "figure" who leads the black mass in the forest declares, "Evil is the nature of mankind."  Thus, Puritans believed that Adam and Eve's sin had damned most people forever, but Jesus had been sent to save "the elect."  However, it was difficult to know if one was saved or damned, so the Puritans tried to behave in an exemplary manner.  This is why Goodman Brown asserts that his family always has avoided temptation and they have been "good Christians since the days of the martyrs."  With this damnation hanging over the Puritans, it is natural that they felt the presence of the Devil, who personified for them man's "depravity."

Therefore, for the Puritans, the spiritual life with its inevitability of sin and presence of the Devil, the promise of salvation (predestined in the case of Calvinists), and an accompanying threat of damnation—became a matter of urgent concern.  After Goodman leaves the forest, he feels that his "dream of evil omen" has proven the minister and others of his community to be blasphemers as they have consorted with the Devil in the forest primeval. 


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