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To analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story from a psychoanalytic perspective, I would recommend that you focus on three key terms and concepts in Freudian psychoanalysis --repression, projection, and dreamwork – and apply those terms and concepts as thoroughly as possible to the story. You may find, in the end, that just one of these terms or concepts will be enough! What this psychoanalytic approach might emphasize can include:
- the extreme control of desires (i.e. the forces of repression) in the town of Salem that is the setting of the short story,
- the title character’s ability to see sin in everyone but himself (i.e. projection)
- and the possibility that Young Goodman Brown’s journey into the woods that night was indeed all just a dream that reflects (through symbols that can mean more than one thing at once) his own anxieties and conflicts (i.e. symbols that can be interpreted through dreamwork).
These concepts can be applied thoroughly to Hawthorne’s short story or, for that matter, to the works of most or all Romantic writers. Hawthorne’s story is very well suited to this sort of approach. At the end, for example, the story itself is clearly left open: perhaps Young Goodman Brown had dreamed it all, and perhaps he hadn’t.
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