How do I view "Young Goodman Brown" from a Freudian point?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Freudian analysis is based on a number of assumptions. For example, Freud believed that the conscious mind often seeks to suppress the unconscious; thus, repressed emotions percolate in the realm of the unconscious, intentionally ignored.

Through psychoanalytic literary criticism, we can see this at play in some works. Let's take "Young Goodman Brown," for instance. In this story, what the author never intended (the repressed elements of malevolence, profane desire, and irreverent behavior in human nature) is in conflict with what the author intended (the moral nature of the devout).

In fact, there is a fascination with the macabre in the story. Additionally, the dream-like imagery casts doubt in our minds, as it does in Goodman Brown's. Like him, we are led to ask: are the pious really joined in harmonious empathy with the wicked?

But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes. It was strange to see, that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints.

In this story, the idea of the "collective unconscious" also holds sway. To Freud, the "personal unconscious" held repressed memories. Carl Jung expanded on that idea and came up with the "collective unconscious," the idea that humans shared universal ancestral memories. He believed that many cultures share similar symbols (as evidenced in art, literature, and music) because they come from the same archetypes.

An example of an archetype is what Jung called the "persona" or mask. This is the face we show the world; it represents what we believe is our best self. Of course, what is hidden from the world constitutes our repressed desires and emotions, seemingly ignored by us. In "Young Goodman Brown," the most pious members of our protagonist's congregation are shown to secretly cherish the most irreverent desires. In the dark of night (where all is hidden, just like in the unconscious), they seemingly enjoy a witches' sabbath with the wicked in attendance.

For more on psychoanalytic literary criticism and Jung's theory of the collective unconscious, please refer to the links below.

sesmith5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Freudian analysis is based on the conflict between the Id, the Ego, and the Superego.  The Id represents our savage and hedonistic tendencies.  The Superego represents our conscience and pride (morality).  The Ego, or reason, balances between both our tendencies to be devils (id) and angels (superego).  Young Goodman Brown travels in a dream into the forest following a devil (his id).  Faith, his wife, begs him not to go.  Along the way he finds many people who he esteems in the forest participating in satanic rituals.  He even finds his wife, Faith in the forest participating in a "black mass."  Faith represents all of the ideals that Goodman Brown's superego values--fidelity to God and morality.  Immediately before his and Faith's initiation into the Satanic cult, he begs Faith to look heavenward.  He wakes from this dream trip unsure of the reality of what he has experienced and most importantly, unsure of Faith's success in looking heavenward.  Thus he begins to mistrust Faith and indeed everyone who he ever had any faith in.  His ego is unable to reconcile the conflict between his id and his superego.  Thus, Goodman Brown ends up bitter and mistrustful from then on.

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Young Goodman Brown

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