Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Hawthorne renders Brown’s deterioration plausible by a blend of means, one of them being his surprising ability to adapt to his purposes a fictional mode seemingly much better suited to the purposes of medieval and Renaissance authors than those of nineteenth century novelists. Normally, allegory is sharp and clear as far as it goes, the limits of its applicability plain. Hawthorne’s story portrays the traditional Christian conviction that when a good man forsakes his Faith, he is liable to Hell. When the Devil taxes Brown with being late for his appointment in the forest, his answer, “Faith kept me back a while,” is as purely allegorical as it can be.
Hawthorne, however, goes on to complicate this idea. Not only are presumably pious people—guardians of the faith such as the minister and deacon—on the way to a satanic communion, but also the character who symbolizes faith. It may not be noticed at the beginning that Brown seems more protective of Faith than she of him. It may even pass unnoticed that Brown identifies Faith by her pink ribbon, a very fragile and decorative artifact for a character representing such a presumably powerful virtue. At the climax of the story, however, for the good man to counsel faith, rather than the opposite, is an incongruity that can hardly be missed. Then Hawthorne has them separated in a way that casts doubt on whether she, and indeed the whole diabolical crowd, were ever there. Brown was certainly there, but...
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Lingering Puritan Influences in Nineteenth-Century New England
Although the Salem Witch Trials had unfolded more than one hundred years prior, nineteenth-century New England was still reeling from inherited guilt, even as it rebelled against the constrictive morals of its forebears, the Puritans. It was into this Salem, Massachusetts, society that Hawthorne was born in 1804. Despite the fact he listed Unitarian as his official religion, his roots and sensibilities were unmistakably Puritan.
Hawthorne's great, great grandfather William Hathorne (Nathaniel added the "W" to the family name when he began signing his published works) was the first family member to emigrate from England. He once ordered the public whipping of a Quaker woman who refused to renounce her religious beliefs. Following in the footsteps of his father, William's son, John, presided over the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne claims he was frequently haunted by these unholy ghosts from his past. Hawthorne's heritage was not the sole influence on his development, however; the social tenets of his contemporary society also played a key role.
Nineteenth-century English traveler Thomas Hamilton once described the descendants of New England's first colonists as ''cold, shrewd, calculating and ingenious," and asserted that "a New Englander is far more a being of reason than of impulse." Hawthorne applied these traits and values—which he struggled to accept...
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''Young Goodman Brown" tells the tale of a young Puritan man drawn into a covenant with the Devil, which he adamantly tries to resist. His illusions about the goodness of society are crushed when he discovers that many of his fellow townspeople, including religious leaders and his wife, are attending the same Black Mass.
"Young Goodman Brown" takes the form of an allegory. An allegory uses symbolic elements to represent various human characteristics and situations. Brown represents Everyman ("Goodman" was a title for those under the social rank of ''gentleman'') while Faith represents his faith in humanity and society. In leaving his wife, Brown forsakes his belief in the godliness of humanity. He immediately enters a wood' 'lonely as could be" that is enshrouded in a "deep dusk." These woods are the physical location in which Brown explores his doubts and opposing desires, and as such represent his personal hell. When he tells his companion ''Faith kept me back awhile," it is clear that he feels ambivalent about forging a pact with the Devil. Yet, while Brown pledges to return to Faith several times, he continues his dark journey. Although Brown eventually leaves the physical location of the woods, mentally he stays there for the rest of his life.
Examples of symbolism in "Young Goodman Brown'' include the pink hair ribbons, which represent Faith's innocence, and the snake-like...
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More than in most of his fiction, "Young Goodman Brown" reflects Hawthorne's fascination with the literary technique of allegory. Used commonly in literature since classical times, and popularized in the Middle Ages by theological scholars and writers alike, allegory is a technique in which characters are often personifications of abstract qualities. Hence, it is possible to identify individual characters in the story directly with moral ideas or concepts. The allegory is quite pronounced in "Young Goodman Brown." Hawthorne has even provided direct links through the characters' names. For example, on the literal level "Goodman" is simply a common appellation for a young man living in seventeenth-century Colonial America; his last name, Brown, is one common among New Englanders, and his wife also bears a common first name in a community where religious observance is important. On an abstract level, however, Hawthorne's protagonist is a representative of the "good man" who abandons his "faith" to commune with the devil. Other characters, while not identified so directly by their names, also bear qualities of abstraction which permit them to be seen as types of New Englanders.
Hawthorne goes even further in emphasizing the universal moral dimensions of the story by his use of setting, where light and darkness carry with them traditional symbolic connotations of good and evil. So careful is the author in his detail that even Faith's ribbons are suggestive:...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Hawthorne is a master of allegory and symbolism, and as a result his works are fertile ground for discussion of moral and social issues. Through his presentation of details about physical setting, through subtle suggestions about the characters, and through his controlled use of point of view, Hawthorne transforms the story of a man's encounter with Satan-worshippers into a tale suggestive of every person's struggle to determine the innermost thoughts of those they know — including those with whom they are most intimate. The wisdom of undertaking that quest and the consequences of having done so are sure sparks for heated debate among readers who frequently have differing ideas about the efficacy of probing deeply into the motivations of others.
1. Puritan doctrine was based on the notion that man's nature is inherently evil, but salvation is offered through God's grace; those who were to be saved would know that God had favored them with his grace, and their lives would reflect that favor. How is this doctrine examined in "Young Goodman Brown?" What is Hawthorne's belief about the effect of this doctrine on individual people?
2. As Goodman Brown is brought into the circle of devil-worshipers, the dark figure conducting the ceremony delivers a brief sermon. Why does Hawthorne include this speech in the story?
3. When Goodman Brown meets the shadowy figure of his guide in the woods, he is initially skeptical about continuing his...
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Compare and Contrast
1692: The Salem Witch Trials result in the hanging deaths of nineteen people accused of being witches.
1835: Hawthorne, a descendant of one of the judges who presided over the Witch Trials, publishes ''Young Goodman Brown." The allegorical tale explores the society and the mindset that spawned the trials.
1996: Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, is adapted for film. In 1953 Miller's play used the Salem Witch Trials as an allegory to condemn the actions of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee.
1690: The first newspaper in British North America, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick, is established. The Governor of Massachusetts scuttles the paper before the end of the year.
1835: James Gordon Bennett opens the New York Herald. Six years later, the New York Tribune is founded. These papers, which cost one penny, are meant to reach the multitudes and be non-partisan.
1997: USA Today is the nation's leading newspaper, based on circulation figures. Founded in 1982, it is the first paper to be published at several printing plants throughout the nation simultaneously.
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Topics for Further Study
What does Goodman Brown mean when he says, "Faith kept me back a while," after the Devil comments on his lack of punctuality?
Was Goodman Brown's brush with evil real or imagined? Read other works of literature in which the line between reality and imagination is blurred, such as "The Swimmer" by John Cheever and "The Fall of the House of Usher'' by Edgar Allan Poe. What are some of the reasons why authors might use this technique?
Investigate the dictates of Puritan culture. How is contemporary American culture different? How is it the same?
What effects did the Salem Witch Trials have on the nation as a whole? Cite specific historic examples.
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As an allegory, "Young Goodman Brown" is part of a tradition which dates to antiquity. Most notably, the story shares affinities with works such as Dante's Divine Comedy (c.1320) and John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (Part I, 1678; Part II, 1684), both of which describe the journey of a good man on a pilgrimage to heaven. Unlike the heroes of these works, however, Goodman Brown succumbs to temptation and does not achieve either peace on earth or a place in heaven. Like most of Hawthorne's work, this story displays several characteristics of Gothic fiction.
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Parallels can be found between this story and numerous others in the Hawthorne canon. The most striking similarities exist between the characters in "Young Goodman Brown" and two stories whose protagonists are also young men: "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and "Wakefield." All three dramatize key moments in the lives of individuals bent on discovery. Readers will also find resemblances to Goodman Brown in the figure of Chillingworth, the villain in The Scarlet Letter (1850).
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In 1968, Edward J. Megroth adapted Young Goodman Brown as an opera, with music by Harold Fink.
Young Goodman Brown was adapted as a motion picture by Pyramid Films in 1972. This thirty-minute film won a special jury award at the Atlanta International Film Festival.
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What Do I Read Next?
Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece The Scarlet Letter (1850), centers on Hester Prynne, a young woman who incurs the wrath of her rigidly Puritan community when she becomes pregnant and refuses to name the father.
Reverend Hooper, the main character in the "The Minister's Black Veil'' an 1835 short story by Hawthorne, bears much in common with other Hawthorne characters, he is obsessed with sin and guilt and chooses to advertise his knowledge of the human potential for evil. The action unfolds in a seventeenth-century New England parish, when the minister reports to a Sunday morning service wearing a black veil.
"The Tell-Tale Heart," Edgar Allan Poe (1843). Considered one of Poe's greatest tales of psychological horror, this story involves a murderer who buries his victim under the floor of his apartment and is then tortured by the sound of a beating heart.
"The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1937) by Stephen Vincent Benet. An O. Henry Memorial Award-winning story about the trial of Jabez Stone, who sells his soul to the Devil, who has tricked the farmer by masquerading as a lawyer. At the trial, Stone is defended by famous New England lawyer Daniel Webster, and the judge presiding over the case is Nathaniel Hawthorne.
"The Devil and his Grandmother," Jacob Ludwig Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1812). This tale appears in...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Fogle, Richard H. "Ambiguity and Clarity in Hawthorne's 'Young Goodman Brown'," in New England Quarterly, December, 1945.
Levin, David in American Literature, November, 1962.
Melville, Herman. "Hawthorne and His Mosses," in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tales, edited by James Mclntosh, W W Norton, 1987, pp 337-350.
Poe, Edgar Allan. "Tale-Writing—Nathaniel Hawthorne," in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tales, edited by James Mclntosh, W. W. Norton, 1987.
Turner, Frederick Jackson. The United States, 1830-1850: The Nation and Its Sections, Peter Smith, 1958.
Waggoner, Hyatt H. Nathaniel Hawthorne, University of Minnesota Press, 1962, 48 p.
Levy, Leo B. "The Problem of Faith in 'Young Goodman Brown'," in Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House, 1986, pp. 115-26.
Levy discusses some of the critical interpretations of "Young Goodman Brown" and provides his own reading of the story, focusing on the character of Faith.
Newman, Lea Bertani Vozar A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, G. K. Hall & Co., 1979.
Newman covers all of Hawthorne's stones, presenting publication history, circumstances of composition, sources, influences, relationships...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bell, Millicent, ed. Hawthorne and the Real: Bicentennial Essays. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2005.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Hester Prynne. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004.
Bunge, Nancy. Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.
Davis, Clark. Hawthorne’s Shyness: Ethics, Politics, and the Question of Engagement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
Mellow, James R. Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980.
Miller, Edward Havilland. Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1991.
Millington, Richard H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Moore, Margaret B. The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998.
Muirhead, Kimberly Free. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”: A Critical Resource Guide and Comprehensive Annotated Bibliography of Literary Criticism, 1950-2000. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2004.
Newman, Lea Bertani Vozar. A Reader’s Guide to the Short Stories of...
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