How is the natural setting altered for the devil's service and congregation?"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

[Since only one question is allowed at a time, yours has been edited]

In this gothic tale of Nathaniel Hawthorne's, the walk of Goodman to the forest with the old man of the serpentine staff is one of traversing gloomy hollows in the road as they journey "so deep into the heathen wilderness."  Overhead is a "black mass of cloud" that sweeps swiftly northward.  At this point, the preternatural enters the description:

Aloft in the air, as if from the depth of the cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices.  Once the listener fancied that he could distinguish the accents of townspeople of his own, men, and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion table, and had seen others rioting at the tavern.

Yet, these voices are so "indistinct" that Goodman Brown doubts if he has heard them or merly the "murmur of the old forest, whispering without a wind. 

This conjoining of the real with the preternatural alters the natural setting of the forest.  Fluttering through the air, the pink ribbons of Goodman's spouse, Faith, are seen and Goodman cries, "My Faith is gone!"  And, "maddened with despair,"  Goodman grabs his staff and moves so quickly that he seems to fly along the forest path, rather than walk it.  Hawthorne writes that Goodman "flew among the black pines, brandishing his stagg with frenzied gestures until he sees a red light before him, much like the burning of felled trees in a clearing.  He hears the "lull of the tempest" and the "weight of many voices" that sing what seems to be a hymn.  At this point, Goodman Brown perceives the black mass.  The pines are ablaze like giant candles, a rock arises like an altar, and in a circle are people,

men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even or horrid crimes.  It was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints.

Indeed, the forest is much altered on the night that Goodman Brown watches the black mass as there are four blazing pines that shoot up a flame as the voices mingle, and Goodman sees "obscurely discovered shapes and visages of horror."  Then, the fire on the rock blazes and forms a glowing arch above its base, revealing a man who resembles a "grave divine," a priest.  He calls for the "converts" and the proselytes stand under the "canopy of fire."  After Goodman sees his wife and cries her name, he finds himself again "amid the calm night and solitude" while a branch that had been on fire sprinkles him with cold dew, causing him to wond if he simply dreamed "a wild dream of a witch-meeting."

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Young Goodman Brown

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