If Goodman Brown’s visions come out of his own dreams, what do they tell us about him?  Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The main conflict of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" lies in Brown's Calviinistic/Puritanical guilt which challenged by his rebellion.  In the exposition of the story, he tells his wife,

"of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise."

With "this excellent resolve for the future," Brown feels justified in his rebellious venture.  However, his faith is shaken as he traverses the way to the black mass.  For, he espies his catechism teacher, Goody Cloyse, flying on a broom like a witch; Deacon Gookin, too, passes, making a comment on how excited he is to attend the witch-meeting. And, finally, Faith herself is there as one of the proselytes.  He cries to her to look to the heavens and "resist the wicked one."  However, he staggers and loses all memory of what happens.  It is then on the next day that Goodman Brown encounters Goody Cloyse who is at her window, and Faith passes him, but he gives her no greeting.

Interpreting the story allegorically, when Goodman shouts at his wife Faith, he loses his own faith.  He has failed in his rebellion and is left only with the Calvinistic sense of the depravity of man.  At the witch-meeting, the minister, the figure of "deep and solemn tone," has declared this Calvinistic belief, "Evil is the nature of mankind."  In his guilt, Goodman becomes a

stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man...from the night of that fearful dream.

Having lost his faith in his night of rebellion, Goodman Brown is left only with despair and his overriding guilt that causes him to see only the Calvinistic idea of man's depravity in others. This is why he becomes a "hoary corpse" when he dies, who is followed, not led, by an aged Faith.

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kpatrick | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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Some experts suggest this is a tale of Brown's sexual awakening.

He has been reared in a community which likely stresses that the sex act is only for reproduction. However, now that he has been married for two months, he has discovered that sex is quite pleasurable. This conflicts with his Puritan faith, which equates pleasure with sin, creating a huge conflict. He must obey the Biblical dictum to be fruitful and multiply while avoiding sinful pleasure.

The story contains many sexual symbols: the serpent and the staff are the most flagrant. Faith's pink ribbon may symbolize her most intimate flesh. The forest may be seen as the darkness within which the sex act occurs.

Finally, he awakens to see his community as full of hypocrites. They condemn pleasure while experiencing great pleasure within their marriages. He cannot reconcile the two positions and withdraws from the community.

So, his dream shows us his conflict about a central facet of his life--his marital relationship.

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