Young Goodman Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne (Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)
“Young Goodman Brown” Nathaniel Hawthorne
The following entry presents criticism of Hawthorne's short story “Young Goodman Brown” (1835). See also Young Goodman Brown Short Story Criticism and The Minister's Black Veil Criticism.
One of the most frequently studied short stories in American literature, Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown” has been a favorite of readers and critics alike. Hawthorne's masterful depiction of a young Puritan's discovery that evil lurks in all men, a theme he would later develop more fully in his novels, has led critics to deem him a pioneer of psychological fiction. Additionally, his masterful use of symbolism and allegory, especially in the figure of Brown's beribboned bride Faith, has recieved intense critical scrutiny. Of this ambiguous story, the American novelist Herman Melville, a friend and admirer of Hawthorne, wrote, “Who in the name of thunder would anticipate any marvel in a piece entitled ‘Young Goodman Brown’? You would of course suppose that it was a simple little tale, intended as a supplement to ‘Goody Two-Shoes.’ Whereas it is deep as Dante.”
Hawthorne graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1821 and returned to his mother's home in Salem, Massachusetts, with the intention of becoming an author. The next decade of his life, which marked his apprenticeship as a writer, was characterized by hard work, lack of recognition—both critical and monetary—and loneliness. As he wrote, he admitted to feeling like “the obscurest man of letters in America,” but he focused on developing his literary ability and in 1828 published his first novel, Fanshawe. Realizing that the novel was a mistake, he destroyed as many copies as he could locate; during this period he also prepared and then burned the first of several collections of short fiction that failed to find a publisher. “Young Goodman Brown” was written during this low point in Hawthorne's career, in 1828 or 1829. It first appeared in New-England Magazine in April, 1835, and was later included in Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of short stories Hawthorne published in 1846 and revised in 1854. Like so much of his other short fiction, “Young Goodman Brown” attests to Hawthorne's symbolic habit of mind and to his interest in the past, myth, and human psychology. Yet by the time he included “Young Goodman Brown” in Mosses, Hawthorne already viewed his early tales as somewhat antiquated and obscure. He wrote in a letter to James T. Fields in 1854, “Upon my honor, I am not quite sure that I entirely comprehend my own meanings in some of these blasted allegories.” Though he would eventually write more short fiction, Hawthorne's interest turned to novel writing, where he eventually resolved the tension between the past and the present still evident in the stories in Mosses.
Plot and Major Characters
Set in seventeenth century Puritan Salem, Massachusetts, “Young Goodman Brown” is recounted by an omniscient narrator who intentionally casts doubt over all the events he relates. As the story opens, Goodman Brown, a young, newly married Puritan, says goodbye to Faith, his wife of only three months, and is about to embark upon a mysterious overnight journey. Faith begs him not to go, but Brown says that he has a task that must be finished before sunrise. He walks down the main street of Salem and into the forest; as he proceeds deeper, he meets an old man who is actually the Devil in disguise. The old man looks a little like Brown and carries a walking stick shaped like a black snake. He invites Brown to walk on with him and to take the stick to make his journey easier. Although neither frightened nor surprised at meeting the Devil, Brown is reluctant to join him and mentions that his ancestors would never have gone on such a walk. To Brown's astonishment, the Devil explains that he is well acquainted with Brown's ancestors and that he helped Brown's father and grandfather punish religious dissenters and massacre Indians. Along the way, they also meet Goody Cloyse, Brown's childhood religious instructor, who clearly knows the Devil. In spite of her pious nature and respected position in Salem, Goody Cloyse turns out to be a witch. Brown realizes from their conversation that a meeting (a Black Mass) will take place that night in the forest. Further on, he sees that the minister and deacon from Salem village are also on their way to the Black Mass. As he finds himself full of doubts about good and evil and his Puritain beliefs, only the thought of his wife, Faith, sustains him. When Brown begins to pray, he hears Faith's voice, and soon discovers that she is about to be initiated into the Devil's party. At a crude altar in the forest, the Devil's congregation, a mixture of Salem's upstanding citizens as well as its corrupt, immoral denizens, sing their songs of worship. Brown cries out to Faith to resist the Devil, but then instantly finds himself alone again in the forest. He returns to town the next morning, turning away from everyone he meets, including Faith, believing that he now knows their true hypocritical nature. He never finds out whether he dreamed his experience in the forest or if it really took place, but from that time on, Brown is a lonely, distrustful man who rejects his wife and his religion. When the time comes for him to die, many years later, the narrator explains that “his dying hour was gloom.”
As many critics have pointed out, in “Young Goodman Brown” Hawthorne is interested in exploring the psychological and social effects of guilty knowledge, whether or not that knowledge is founded on fact. At the outset of the story, Brown is self-confident and secure in the knowledge that the world around him is as he believes it to be. He particularly cherishes the knowledge that his wife, Faith, is innocent and good—an angel on earth. Believing that his place in heaven is assured by his wife's goodness, Brown disregards the consequences of making and keeping an appointment with the Devil. Hawthorne presents Brown's ordeal in the forest as his first brush with evil, but it is significant, leading him to reject his previous conviction in the prevailing power of good. His discovery that the people he admires and believes to be good Christians are actually hypocrites sets the tone for the rest of his life. Though he himself resists the Devil, he allows his newfound awareness of sin to fester and rejects what he believes to be a community of sinners. Hawthorne portrays Brown as the greatest sinner of all because he has turned away from the rest of humanity and has so easily given up his faith. Sin is an inescapable part of human nature, Hawthorne shows, and Brown's forest experience is symbolic of the spiritual journey from innocence to experience that is a part of emotional maturity. Because Brown cannot accept what he has learned, both his emotional and physical development is arrested and he stagnates spiritually until he dies. Additionally, there are parallels between “Young Goodman Brown” and the witchcraft hysteria that occurred in Salem in 1692, in which one of Hawthorne's ancestors played a significant role. The ambiguous narrator and the similarities in setting invite comparison between the historical events and Hawthorne's portrayal of evil lurking in every corner. “Young Goodman Brown” questions Puritan culture and the issues of conformity that led to the witchcraft hysteria by demonstrating how questionable, or spectral, evidence can so completely effect the course of an individual's life.
“Young Goodman Brown” ranks foremost among Hawthorne's short stories in both popular appeal and critical respect. Readers are drawn by Hawthorne's superb storytelling technique and by the theological, moral, psychological, social, and historical dimensions he develops in the tale. The story has also had its critics: in the nineteenth century, Edgar Allan Poe wrote that the allegorical elements in the story detract from its natural form, and Henry James posited that the presentation of the forest experience as a dream constituted Hawthorne's taking the easy way out of a narrative dilemma. More recently, critics such as Frank Davidson and Leo B. Levy have explored Hawthorne's handling of Brown's emotional crisis in the story. Going even further in this direction, Edward Jayne and Michael Tritt have written extensive Freudian readings of the tale, focusing on Brown's arrested psychological development and projection of guilt. The historical context of the story continues to attract critical interest, as well, with scholars delving into the Puritan belief system and seventeenth-century American cultural values for clues to interpreting “Young Goodman Brown.” Twentieth-century critics have also become increasingly interested in the narrative technique Hawthorne uses in “Young Goodman Brown” with such commentators as Harold Mosher, among others, discussing the storytelling aspect of the tale. The ambiguous sybmolism and the allegorical nature of “Young Goodman Brown” ensure continued interest and vigorous critical attention
Fanshawe: A Tale (novel) 1828
Twice-Told Tales (sketches and short stories) 1837
Twice-Told Tales (second series) (sketches and short stories) 1842
Mosses from an Old Manse (sketches and short stories) 1846
The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (novel) 1850
The House of the Seven Gables (novel) 1851
The Snow Image and Other Tales (short stories) 1851
The Blithedale Romance (novel) 1852
Life of Franklin Pierce (biography) 1852
A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (short stories) 1852
Tanglewood Tales for Girls and Boys; Being a Second Wonder-Book (short stories) 1853
The Marble Faun; or, The Romance of Monte Beni (novel) 1860; published in England as Transformation; or, The Romance of Monte Beni, 1860
Our Old Home (essays) 1863
Passages from the American Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne (journal) 1868
Passages from the English Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne (journal) 1870
Passages from the French and Italian Notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne (journal) 1872
Septimius Felton; or, The Elixer of Life (unfinished novel) 1872
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’: Hawthorne's Intent,” in ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, Vol. 31, Part 2, 1963, pp. 68-71.
[In the following essay, Davidson argues that Hawthorne's purpose in “Young Goodman Brown” was to demonstrate the power of an “evil thought” to corrupt psychologically and ultimately to lead an individual to “an evil deed.”]
One considers the number and variety of attempts made to clarify the meaning of “Young Goodman Brown”1 and wonders whether there is perhaps some simpler explanation of the story than has been made. May it have been the author's purpose to have the reader realize keenly the transforming power and the paralyzing deceptiveness of an evil thought, which once entertained, starts into action subtle psychological processes against which one may make resolves but which, begun, proceed with increasing strength to demoniacal frenzy and the perpetration of an evil deed?
About the period of the publication of the story (1835), the author was displaying considerable interest in the relation of the “evil in every human heart” to evil thought and evil deed. In 1836, for example, he set down among themes for stories, the observation that evil may remain latent in the heart through a lifetime or may, through circumstance, be suddenly activated;2 that a man may “flatter himself with the idea that he...
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SOURCE: “Antinomianism in ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 3, No. 1, Fall, 1965, pp. 73-75.
[In the following essay, Mathews suggests that Brown's passivity—the result of his antinomianist belief that he is saved regardless of his personal actions—leads him into error and doom.]
Almost everyone commenting on Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown” has noted that its general theme is the loss of personal faith. On the specific application of certain symbols, however, there has been a good deal of disagreement. Some time ago Thomas E. Connolly re-asserted the paramount allegorical significance of the character Faith and justifiably concluded that “this story is Hawthorne's criticism of the teachings of Puritanic-Calvinism,”1 though he limited the object of Hawthorne's criticism to predestination. Giving further scrutiny to Faith can establish a more specific probability of meaning, which converts to theological terms Hawthorne's ubiquitous thesis that the most serious personal evil is retreat from reality and responsibility.
A doctrine of one group of Calvinists during the time depicted in the story was Antinomianism,2 which insisted that salvation was of faith, not of works. If good works existed, they came only as a secondary by-product of the mysterious divine grace; personal volition was de-emphasized, if not...
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SOURCE: “Deodat Lawson's Christ's Fidelity and Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 104, No. 4, October, 1968, pp. 349-70.
[In the following essay, Cohen contends that Deodat Lawson's Christ's Fidelity, a work about the Salem witchcraft trials in 1692, inspired Hawthorne to write “Young Goodman Brown.”]
Despite much praise and many fine words expended on Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown,” interpretations of this well-wrought tale have varied as widely as the critics and their personal biases. The abundant ambiguities present in the story yield opportunity to all: those who would see Hawthorne as confirming Calvinism's central doctrine of man's innate depravity, others who view him as rejecting the same tenet, some who would apply a latter-day symbolism involving phallic pine trees and sexual guilt, and still others who would by expert juggling of old ideas in new semantic dress convey the impression that an original interpretation is being offered.1
After such great argument it is refreshing and heartening to see an admirable article by Professor David Levin, in which he sanely urges that we “try to read the story in terms that were available to Hawthorne.”2 Professor Levin cogently argues that belief in the validity of spectral evidence, as it was acceptable to the magistrates, offered...
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’ and Hawthorne's Theory of Mimesis,” in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 23, No. 4, March, 1969, pp. 393-412.
[In the following essay, Stoehr examines “Young Goodman Brown” in light of Hawthorne's ideas on the relationship between spiritual and natural truth, and the dangers implicit in confusing the two.]
The tellers of tales—in America, writers like Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, and later Mark Twain—construct their fictions around some single and striking figure of speech, at once abstract and concrete, an idea embodied in an action, object, circumstance, or the like, so that it becomes, as it were, a trope of life. The tale's main “effect”—to use Poe's term for it—reduces again and again to some bizarre image: a house collapsing with the death of its owner, a woman dying with the removal of her birthmark, a stutterer whose speech is act, a package of limburger cheese mistaken for the putrescence of a corpse, a chandelier of human torches, a “Pygmalion” figurehead for a ship, a “writer” who would “prefer not,” a burglar-alarm system with a will of its own. This is in contrast with authors like James, who write a different genre, the short story, and who are concerned with character, situation, life or a slice of it. The teller of the tale carefully leads up to or surrounds his central conception with a series of events which may sometimes...
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SOURCE: “Hawthorne's Polar Explorations: ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and ‘My Kinsman, Major Molineux,’” in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 24, No. 1, June, 1969, pp. 45-56.
[In the following essay, Carpenter considers “Young Goodman Brown” and “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” as companion pieces, with the first tale treating corruption brought on by isolation, and the second by society.]
The misadventures of Young Goodman Brown and Major Molineux's youthful cousin Robin have in recent years been as extensively interpreted as any of Hawthorne's shorter works. Since both tales are ambiguous and puzzling in the characteristic fashion of the best Hawthorne stories, it is not surprising that they have elicited attention from a variety of critical perspectives. Their imagery, symbols, cultural milieus, historical backgrounds, psychoanalytic implications, and mythic patterns have all been so thoroughly examined that we know as much about the individual tales as we can rightly expect from the application of the critical intelligence. Nevertheless, all this critical acumen and industry has allowed one curious lacuna to remain. Although alone among Hawthorne's tales these two are so closely parallel in form and manner as to be properly considered companion-pieces, there has been no investigation of this fact. Passing comments there are aplenty, but curiosity apparently has stopped there.
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SOURCE: “The Forest of Goodman Brown's Night: A Reading of Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in New England Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3, September, 1970, pp. 473-81.
[In the following essay, Cook discusses ‘Young Goodman Brown’ in terms of Hawthorne's probing of the moral imagination, pointing out that Brown's motives are ambiguous, but that the results of his actions are “clear and frightening.”]
“Thou wouldst not think how ill all's here about my heart …”
Hamlet v. 2, 220
In a literary epoch when the dominant field of action was the frontier settlement, the forest, and the fort, Hawthorne focussed on the world of moral imagination. His “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) is a paradigm of this particular world, and Brown's behavior on a fateful night in his life is the key to this haunting tale. Although the motives for Goodman Brown's behavior are ambiguous, the consequences of his compulsive acts are clear but frightening.
It is truly an enchanted forest into which Goodman Brown enters on his way to keep a tryst. “The magic forest,” says Heinrich Zimmer in The King and the Corpse, “is always full of adventures. No one can enter it without losing his way. The forest has always been a place of initiation for there the demonic presences, the...
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SOURCE: “Hawthorne Interprets ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, Vol. 62, Winter, 1971, pp. 2-4.
[In the following essay, Whelan argues that, unlike The Scarlet Letter, in “Young Goodman Brown” Hawthorne leaves no possibility of redemption for the protagonist at the conclusion of the tale, for Brown's “self-inflicted nightmare” haunts him until his death.]
Though we have good explications of “Young Goodman Brown,”1 the best and most succinct is Hawthorne's, appearing as a description of Hester Prynne's moral state in the penultimate paragraph of Chapter V of The Scarlet Letter: “Her imagination was somewhat affected, and, had she been of a softer moral and intellectual fibre, would have been still more so, by the strange and solitary anguish of her life. Walking to and fro, with those lonely footsteps … it now and then appeared to Hester,—if altogether fancy, it was nevertheless too potent to be resisted,—she felt or fancied, then, that the scarlet letter had endowed her with a new sense. She shuddered to believe, yet could not help believing, that it gave her a sympathetic knowledge of the hidden sin in other hearts. She was terror-stricken by the revelations that were thus made. What were they? Could they be other than the insidious whispers of the bad angel, who would fain have persuaded the struggling woman, as...
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SOURCE: “Freudianism, American Romanticism, and ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in CEA Critic, Vol. 33, No. 3, March, 1971, pp. 3-6.
[In the following essay, Campbell criticizes the trend among Hawthorne critics to interpret “Young Goodman Brown” in Freudian terms, pointing out that this approach tends to oversimplify and narrow the interpretation of the story.]
Certainly Freudian criticism has made substantial contributions to the understanding of some aspects of American romanticism—in studies of the sexual symbolism in much of Whitman's best poetry, the tortured ambiguities of Melville's Pierre and some of his short stories, and the relation between Poe's probable impotence and his creative work, to mention only a few examples that come readily to mind. It has even been said that some of the American Romanticists themselves anticipated Freud in describing the shadowy subliminal origin of some of their images. It seems to me, however, that in the twilight area between the unconscious and the conscious of the Romanticists these vague beginnings of images which then emerged into the conscious and became full images were not pre-Freudian but were far closer to what Jacques Maritain has called creative intuition or the spiritual preconscious, of which, says Maritain, “Plato and the ancient wise men were aware, and the disregard of which in favor of the Freudian unconscious alone is a sign of...
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’—Warning to Idealists,” in American Transcendental Quarterly, Vol. 14, Spring, 1972, pp. 156-58.
[In the following essay, Erisman suggests that in “Young Goodman Brown” Hawthorne wanted to point out the psychological and social dangers of “excessive innocence.”]
Readings of Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown” (1835) focus almost exclusively upon its dual evocation of Calvinism and demonism. The Puritanic gloom and the Satanic gleam that permeate the story are so obviously significant, in fact, that one scholar has virtually denied the possibility of any other readings.1 There is, however, persuasive evidence that Hawthorne had more than Puritans and witches in mind as subjects for his tale. Indeed, his treatment of Young Goodman Brown himself, of the curious nature of faith, and of the effects of the loss of faith, taken in the context of Hawthorne's intellectual development in the years immediately prior to 1835, points to the conclusion that he was making a much broader religious and philosophical comment than is usually recognized.
Hawthorne's presentation of Young Goodman Brown is richly suggestive. Brown is, of course, “Goodman.” Although this is a commonplace form of seventeenth-century address,2 the reader familiar with Hawthorne's multi-leveled technique cannot help hearing echoes of “good...
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’ and Puritan Justification,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring, 1974, pp. 200-03.
[In the following essay, Johnson discusses “Young Goodman Brown” in light of the Puritan doctrine of justification—the idea that God will “justify” sinners who recognize themselves as such and seek divine help. Johnson argues that Brown's actions are an example of false justification because he never admits to his own sinful nature.]
Criticism of “Young Goodman Brown” has traditionally been divided into speculations about the nature of the hero's journey. Was it a dream? Or was it reality? Newton Arvin is usually cited as representative of the view that Goodman Brown received a true vision of human depravity in the woods, and F. O. Matthiessen is representative of the view that the sins witnessed by young Goodman Brown were creatures of his own making.1 Almost no modern critic supports Arvin's view, however, so the old argument rarely arises in the old way. Questions about the reality of the story and Brown's relationship to it continue to interest critics, however.2 A new dimension is given the problem of Goodman Brown's relation to a special kind of reality in the light of what we know and what Hawthorne knew about the Puritan doctrine of justification, a belief which has to be understood in terms of Covenant Theology.3...
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SOURCE: “Visible Sanctity and Specter Evidence: The Moral World of Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 110, October, 1974, pp. 259-99.
[In the following essay, Colacurcio examines “Young Goodman Brown” in the context of Puritan theology, faith, and “spectral evidence” of witchcraft and the devil. Colacurcio suggests that Hawthorne uses his story to demonstrate “that witchcraft ‘ended’ the Puritan world”.]
Any seriously “complete” interpretation of Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown” must somehow take account of David Levin's rather exact description of Brown's experience in the actual language of 1692. It may be possible to disagree with his final assertion that the “literal” dimension of “Young Goodman Brown” is “social,” condemning “that graceless perversion of true Calvinism which, in universal suspicion, actually led a community to the unjust destruction of twenty men and women”; but it seems impossible to deny that “spectral evidence” is, in some sense, the central issue of the tale. The attempt to “answer” him has proved unproductive; and it is now possible to see that all the early readings which argued that Brown's desperate conclusions might not be fully justified by the nature of his evidence were at least implicitly pointing out one central issue: namely, the inadvisability of accepting the...
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SOURCE: “The Problem of Faith in ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 74, No. 3, July, 1975, pp. 375-87.
[In the following essay, Levy discusses the role of faith in “Young Goodman Brown” and contends that Hawthorne's intent is to depict the sin of falling into despair once faith is gone.]
Few of Hawthorne's tales have elicited a wider range of interpretations than “Young Goodman Brown.” The critics have been victimized by the notorious ambiguity of a tale composed of a mixture of allegory and the psychological analysis of consciousness. Many of them find the key to its meaning in a neurotic predisposition to evil; one goes so far as to compare Goodman Brown to Henry James's governess in The Turn of the Screw.1 The psychological aspect is undeniably important, since we cannot be certain whether “Young Goodman Brown” is a dream-allegory that takes place in the mind and imagination of the protagonist, an allegory with fixed referents in the external world, or a combination of these that eludes our ordinary understanding of the genre itself. The story is all three: a dream vision, a conventional allegory, and finally an inquiry into the problem of faith that undermines the assumptions upon which the allegory is based.
Whether we think of the central episode of the witches' Sabbath as a dream or an hallucination, or...
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’: Hawthorne's Condemnation of Conformity,” in The Nathaniel Hawthorne Journal, 1978, pp. 137-45.
[In the following essay, Matheson interprets “Young Goodman Brown” as Hawthorne's condemnation of a society that emphasizes conformity over spiritualism. Matheson argues that Brown's overriding concern for conformity, rather than a moral rejection of evil and sin, keeps him from joining with the Devil.]
At first glance, it might appear farfetched to see Hawthorne's Goodman Brown as the spiritual ancestor of someone like Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt. Nevertheless, there is considerable evidence that the same preoccupation with social convention, public appearance, and conformity in general that characterized Lewis's twentieth-century protagonist is behind most of the speeches and actions of Hawthorne's seventeenth-century Puritan. Indeed, if Brown does lose the battle with the Devil for his soul, a case can be made that his lack of self-reliance is the most important contributing factor in his damnation.
Virtually everything Brown says and does stems from a concern with preserving his public image in some form or other. This is first seen as he bids farewell to his “aptly-named” and obviously allegorical wife Faith. That Faith is Brown's wife, and hence “his,” is symbolically just as important to the story as is her name. For this indicates that...
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SOURCE: “Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Revival Movement,” in American Transcendental Quarterly, Vol. 44, Fall, 1979, pp. 311–32.
[In the following essay, Shuffelton examines “Young Goodman Brown” in the context of New England spiritual revival movements of the 1820s and 1830s, finding some parallels between revival meetings and Brown's experience in the forest.]
Because the best of Nathaniel Hawthorne's fiction so often incorporates historical materials, a great deal of scholarly attention has been devoted both to these materials and to his use of them. Although this activity is crucial to our understanding of Hawthorne's work, our concern with his artful transformation of his sources can also mislead us about the nature of his imagination and his art. Intensive study of Hawthorne's use of history ironically tends to encourage the stereotype of the recluse writer in a Salem attic by suggesting that his working out of universal human dilemmas in historical terms displaced any interest in the immediate problems of his society. Hawthorne the lonely artist is such an appealing figure that it is easy to forget Samuel Goodrich's industrious editor, the worker at Brook Farm, the customs official, and the campaign biographer; he was enmeshed in the issues of his age even if they did not appear directly in his fictions.1
His ability to connect past and present has not been...
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SOURCE: “Pray Tarry with Me Young Goodman Brown,” Literature and Psychology, Vol. 29, No. 3, 1979, pp. 100-13.
[In the following essay, Jayne presents a psychoanalytic reading of “Young Goodman Brown,” asserting that Brown exhibits classic symptoms of paranoia and homosexual tendencies.]
Hawthorne's almost transparent use of paranoia as an organizing principle has been generally overlooked even in psychoanalytic studies of his fiction. There have been many critical approaches to Hawthorne, but most if not all of them have provided an essentially “normal” response to his paranoid manipulation of experience. It almost seems as if his uncompromising delusional intensity has provoked a variety of normal defenses among those who are sufficiently tantalized to want to deal with it without coming to terms with its fullest implications. By doing so they both accept and deny whatever resonance this manipulation of experience has produced in themselves, as would be demonstrated by their indignation when challenged on these grounds. Nevertheless, once noticed, unmistakable symptoms of paranoia are everywhere to be observed in Hawthorne's fiction, and these can and should be investigated as a pattern of behavior which is consistent enough to justify its independent clinical evaluation. It is Hawthorne's fiction which should be diagnosed, not Hawthorne, his sympathetic audience, nor even his tormented and...
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SOURCE: “The Sources of Ambiguity in Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown’: A Structuralist Approach,” in ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, Vol. 26, No. 1, 1980, pp. 16-25.
[In the following essay, Mosher uses a structuralist critical approach to focus on contradictions in meaning and on the reader's relationship with the narrator in “Young Goodman Brown”.]
As Jonathan Culler has observed, the structuralist method, based on the linguistic model, should “account for our judgments about meaning and ambiguity, well-formedness and deviance.” The structuralist critic studies the conventions of any system that enables its signs to produce meaning or certain effects. He does not primarily study meaning or seek to formulate new interpretations; rather he examines how meaning or effects are achieved.1 In such analyses, of course, consideration of meaning cannot be ignored. Thus, Claude Lévi-Strauss, by a method that consists of “dividing the syntagmatic sequence into superposable segments, and in proving that they constitute variations on one and the same theme,” studies patterns of opposition that produce meaning in myths.2 A. J. Greimas has developed the “semiotic square” to account for even more complex relations governed by the principles of contradiction and contrariness.3 Similarly, a structuralist reading of Hawthorne's “Young Goodman...
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’: Hawthorne's ‘Devil in Manuscript,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 1981, pp. 155-62.
[In the following essay, Williamson suggests that Hawthorne exhibits a gleeful, mocking narrative persona in “Young Goodman Brown” in order to expose pretensions about life and literature.]
When Hawthorne commented on the vocation of authorship, he was often drawn to analogies between writing and damnation. “… authors,” he wrote with tongue-in-cheek in 1821, “are always poor devils, and therefore Satan may take them.”1 The pun is on “devil,” which can mean a literary hack; and the meaning is clear: to write conventionally and without integrity is to damn oneself as a writer, even at the cost of popularity and recognition. “… America is now wholly given over to a d[amne]d mob of scribbling women,” Hawthorne wrote in 1855, “and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash—and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed.”2 Yet, going to the devil, in another context, was the highest form of praise Hawthorne could bestow on a fellow author. “The woman writes as if the Devil was in her,” he commented upon reading Sara P. Willis's Ruth Hall, “and that is the only condition under which a woman ever writes anything worth reading. Generally women write like...
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SOURCE: “Narrative Structure and Theme in ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in Journal of Narrative Technique, Vol. 12, No. 3, Fall, 1982, pp. 221-28.
[In the following essay, Hostetler discusses variant critical interpretations of Brown's experience as seen by both Brown and the narrator in “Young Goodman Brown.” Hostetler posits that Hawthorne's intersection of these two points of view illustrates “the fatal consequences of psychological misjudgment.”]
One of Nathaniel Hawthorne's major themes concerns conscious awareness of the reality which the mind imposes on external objects. Hawthorne's characters are repeatedly confronted by the need to establish the relationship between their imaginations and the external world.1 Their ability to make the epistemological distinctions between the products of their mental processes and their sense impressions of the external world frequently governs their ability to develop a sound moral relationship with other people.
“Young Goodman Brown” illustrates especially well the fatal consequences of psychological misjudgment concerning perception and reality.2 The problem of establishing point of view is central to developing this interpretation. Although Hawthorne's narrator exists outside the story line, the tension between the conflicting interpretations of experience provided by the narrator and Goodman Brown from...
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’: Hawthorne's ‘Devil in Manuscript’:—A Rebuttal,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 19, No. 4, Fall, 1982, pp. 381-84.
[In the following essay, Hollinger presents a rebuttal to James L. Williamson's 1981 essay (see above) on “Young Goodman Brown,” arguing that the narrator is not “of the devil's party,” but someone who exposes the hypocrisy of Puritan New England society.]
James L. Williamson's “‘Young Goodman Brown’: Hawthorne's ‘Devil In Manuscript’” identifies Hawthorne's tale as a “hell-fired” satire in which the speaker in the course of his telling the story “shows himself to be of the devil's party” and expresses a “demonic delight” in narrating a satanic tale, a delight that establishes him as the counterpart of the work's other devil figures, yet a close analysis of the narrative perspective in “Young Goodman Brown” shows its speaker to maintain a substantial distance from all of the characters in the story, and especially from those associated with the devil's party.1 Williamson's argument centers on his identifying the speaker's method of telling his tale with the voices of the three major diabolical figures that Goodman Brown meets on his journey, the “traveler with the twisted staff,” Goody Cloyse, and the ministerial figure at the witches' meeting, but the speaker's attitude toward these figures...
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SOURCE: “‘Young Goodman Brown’ and the Psychology of Projection,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 21. No. 1, Winter, 1986, pp. 113-17.
[In the following essay, Tritt explores “Young Goodman Brown” in terms of the psychological phenomenon of projection, suggesting that Brown projects his own feelings of guilt and sin onto those he sees during his night in the forest.]
A recent bibliography of Hawthorne criticism suggests that the four hundred or so articles written about “Young Goodman Brown,” “cover an intimidating array of responses that pursue every possible interpretive nuance, from esoteric theological dogma to technically precise but scientifically complex psychoanalytic themes.”1 Despite this wealth of illuminating comment, however, there is still much contention about the meaning of the tale. The psychology underlying Goodman Brown's reaction to his forest experience, for example, still remains puzzling. How exactly does Brown regard his devilish2 behavior in the forest?
The most common reading of the tale asserts Brown's loss of faith, in himself and in his fellows. Critics argue that, as a result of his nighttime experience, Brown comes to believe all men corrupt and inevitably evil. Yet there is another possibility. In my view, Brown's bewilderment, and subsequent withdrawal, results from his conviction (however misguided) that he...
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SOURCE: “Deconstructing ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in American Transcendental Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 1, March, 1988, pp. 23-33.
[In the following essay, Morris examines misnaming and misreading in “Young Goodman Brown” in a deconstructive critical approach to the tale.]
Two trends in recent criticism of “Young Goodman Brown” form the background to this essay. First, historicist critics, analyzing the story's Calvinist dilemmas, often remark upon the seeming inevitability of its action. Thus Michael Colacurcio concludes that “everything seems to follow from, or indeed to be contained in the initial situation of the story” (391). Jane Eberwein believes that the hero's “exploration of the hitherto concealed recesses of his soul would have come eventually as a test of his new birth” (26). For these and other critics, the story argues some necessity in Brown's confrontation with evil in the forest.1 It is as if young Goodman Brown's fate was always, already inherent in his marriage to Faith. Second, among commentators who adopt newer critical approaches to the story, there is a growing consensus that its theme concerns reading. Thus James L. Williamson writes that “Brown's experience in the woods will come to represent the experience of art, of reading the tale ‘Young Goodman Brown’” (156). Williamson builds his thesis on Sheldon W. Liebman's argument that the reader is...
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SOURCE: “Lachrymal Imagery in Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown,’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 3, Summer, 1991, pp. 339-43.
[In the following essay, Easterly discusses Hawthorne's use of lachrymal, or tear, imagery in “Young Goodman Brown,” emphasizing Brown's inability to cry either out of sorrow for others or in repentance for his own sins.]
“Faith! Faith!” cried the husband. “Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!”
Whether Faith obeyed, he knew not. Hardly had he spoken, when he found himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind, which died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against the rock and felt it chill and damp, while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew.
(Hawthorne [“Young Goodman Brown”] 88)
Thus ends the crucial scene in Nathaniel Hawthorne's tale of “Young Goodman Brown,” the story of a Puritan lad who leaves his bride of three months to secretly watch a witches' Sabbath in the deep forest outside Salem village. In so doing, he willfully betrays his commitment to his wife, the moral code of his society, and the teachings of his religion. The experience of this one night in the forest changes Goodman Brown for the rest of his life, for...
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SOURCE: “Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism,” in ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance, Vol. 40, No. 1, 1994, pp. 66-88.
[In the following essay, Franklin examines the influence of Cotton Mather's catechism entitled Milk for Babes, which focuses on humankind's innate moral depravity, on Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown.”]
If the importance of an artistic creation may be gauged by the amount of critical attention it receives, then Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown” is surely one of the most significant stories ever written. From Melville's comments in 1850 to the present, this dark tale has engaged many of Hawthorne's best readers and is likely to continue attracting them. I would suggest, however, that while such scholars as Hyatt H. Waggoner, Richard Harter Fogle, Frederick Crews, and other, more recent critics have helped us understand Hawthorne in general and “Young Goodman Brown” in particular, they have overlooked a statement by Brown which, when analyzed, helps explain his inability to function satisfactorily in Puritan society.1
Soon after permitting his guide, the devil figure, to persuade him to go deeper into the woods than originally agreed, and after first seeing Goody Cloyse, Brown responds to her unexpected presence by saying, “A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness, at night-fall!”2 But...
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SOURCE: “Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown’: Early Nineteenth-Century and Puritan Constructions of Gender,” in New England Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 1, March, 1996, pp. 33-55.
[In the following essay, Keil focuses on the blurring of masculine and feminine spheres in “Young Goodman Brown” and suggests that the reader needs to take into account historical as well as psychological implications of gender in the tale.]
Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown” traditionally has been read as an examination of crises of faith, morality, and/or psychosexuality. Early readings focused on questions of theology and conduct,1 but since the opening years of the 1950s, a second category of readings has emphasized the psychosexual elements. Roy Male, for example, argued that “the dark night in the forest is essentially a sexual experience, though it is also much more,” while Frederick Crews observed that in his dream experience, the young, newly wed, and still oedipal Brown, fleeing from the sexuality of married love, removes himself to a place where he can voyeuristically and vicariously enjoy that which he directly shuns.2 The third important category of readings attempts to ground the story in the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century documents about witchcraft to which Hawthorne had access. Most significant of these considerations are David Levin's contention that...
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SOURCE: “Romanticism's Fallen Edens: The Malignant Contribution of Hawthorne's Literary Landscapes,” in College Language Association Journal, Vol. 42, No. 3, 1999, pp. 353-63.
[In the following essay, Johanyak explores Hawthorne's use of the forest in “Young Goodman Brown” and several of his other works, contending that Brown's sojourn in the forest serves to remind him that “we are everywhere surrounded by evil.”]
America's stern puritannical history provided nineteenth century writers with ideal plots and settings for the age-old conflict between good and evil. Edenic gardens and pastoral woodlands grace countless works of the Romantic era, wherein Adam- and Eve-like lovers succumb to temptation and find themselves not only cast out of their normative societies, but often torn from each other as well—whether spiritually, emotionally, or literally. Significantly, the forest settings of these tales contribute substantially and malignantly to the plot development of such stories.
None used the Edenic motif so pervasively as Nathaniel Hawthorne. His tales initially seem to draw our focus to a narrator who introduces characters and events. But Hawthorne's stories begin much earlier, in fact, commencing with landscape descriptions that set our goose bumps in motion. He accomplishes this in so artful a way that we are scarcely aware of it; hence we focus our mounting...
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Stanton, Robert J. “Secondary Studies on Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown,’ 1845-1975: A Bibliography.” Bulletin of Bibliography and Magazine Notes 33, No. 1 (January 1976): 32-44, 52.
Comprehensive bibliography of criticism on the story from 1845 to 1975.
Apseloff, Stanford and Marilyn. “‘Young Goodman Brown’: The Goodman.” American Notes and Queries 21, No. 7 (March 1983): 103-06.
Quoting sources of Scottish folklore, assert that the word Goodman was used to refer to the Devil, which gives a dual meaning to Hawthorne's tale.
Capps, Jack L. “Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Explicator 40, No. 3 (Spring 1982): 25.
Suggests that the third virtue of the Christian tryptich, charity—one not mentioned in the tale—is precisely what Brown is lacking to survive his experience with the Devil.
Christophersen, Bill. “‘Young Goodman Brown’ as Historical Allegory: A Lexical Link.” Studies in Short Fiction 23, No. 2 (Spring 1986): 202-04.
Discusses Hawthorne's ironic use of Exodus imagery in the tale.
Dickson, Wayne. “Hawthorne's ‘Young Goodman Brown.’” Explicator 29, No. 5 (January 1971): item 44.
Finds a reference to...
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