Analyze the presence and purpose of religious references in "Young Goodman Brown" and "Araby."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "Araby," the religious references illustrate the fervor and longing—the passion—the young narrator pours into his fantasy love for Mangan's sister, showing how he idealizes and romanticizes her. He writes that when he accompanies his aunt to the busy market in Dublin,

I imagined that I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes. Her name sprang to my lips at moments in strange prayers and praises which I myself did not understand. My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself out into my bosom.

The word chalice is a reference to the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank his wine at the Last Supper and which, in legend, was used to catch the blood flowing from his side at his death. The boy imagines Mangan's sister as a chalice—a precious, sacred vessel he carries with him. He worships her with a religious intensity. Of course, a chalice is an object, showing that he objectifies this young woman rather than seeing her as a real, everyday human being who he could get to know rather than adore from afar.

"Young Goodman Brown" is filled with religious references. Goodman Brown's young wife is named Faith, an allusion to Christian faith. Goodman Brown idealizes her in religious terms, just as the narrator in "Araby" does Mangan's sister:

she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven.

The stranger Goodman Brown meets in the path to the woods is carrying a staff that

bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.

The living serpent is a symbol of Satan. Goody Cloyse confirms the man is Satan when she cries:

"The devil!" screamed the pious old lady.

"Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?" observed the traveller, confronting her, and leaning on his writhing stick.

Throughout the novel, traditional imagines of spiritual evil haunt Goodman Brown. In his consciousness, there is no middle ground between good and evil: people are either all goodness and purity, as he sees his wife in the beginning of the story, or all evil, as he witnesses (or dreams) at the coven. One reading of the story is that his inability to understand and accept that humans are a mix of good and evil ruins Goodman Brown's life: once he suspects evil he turns away bitterly from the people he was closest to.

In sum, in both stories, the main character's religious background causes him to overly idealize certain people in his life, only to face disillusion.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial