How does Hawthorne use irony in "Young Goodman Brown" to illustrate the hypocrisy of the Puritans?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a story replete with irony, Hawthorne employs dramatic irony at the beginning of "Young Goodman Brown" as Goodman fails to recognize the old man, described as "he of the serpent," as the devil even though Goody Cloyse cries out, "The devil" and his staff resembles a snake and the moment his finger touch twigs, "they became strangely withered."  In his sanctimony, Goodman loses sight of the reality around him and remains convinced that he can withstand the evil around him:

conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now so happily turned from it.

Even after his experiences in the forest, Goodman Brown--whose very name is ironic--remains convinced that he is without fault and the others have fallen.  With Puritanical hypocrisy, he views them as depraved:

When the minister spoke from the pulpit with power and fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion...then did Goodman brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers.

In addition to the dramatic irony , Hawthorne's use of verbal irony is readily apparent in the names of the characters.  For instance, Goodman himself has an ironic name as, in addition to the ironic use of good, his appellation includes young, indicating his inexperience with life, an inexperience that Brown ignores in his sanctimonious conclusions about the other members of his Puritan community. Of course, the name of Goody Cloyse, a character named after a real person involved in the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692 is ironic. Also, the wife of Goodman has an ironic name since faith is a belief not based upon truth of proven reality.  For, this definition applies to the conclusions drawn by Goodman Brown that his wife has consorted with the devil since he has not actually witnessed anything--taken his ideas on "faith" in his own judgment that exhibits no religious faith:

Whether Faith obeyed [his cry to resist 'the wicked one'] he knew not.  Hardly had he spoken when he found himself amid calm night and solitude....The next morning young Goodman Brown came slowly into the street of Salem village, staring around him like a bewildered man.

In the end, it is young Goodman Brown who, more than anyone else, has lost faith as he believes what the devil has declared in the forest:

Evil is the nature of mankind.  Evil must be your only happiness.

Ironically, the once young Goodman Brown is "borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman.....as his dying hour was gloom."  Thus, the ultimate irony is served upon the man who held himself above the others.

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The central irony of "Young Goodman Brown" is the same irony that highlights the hypocrisy of the Puritans: the people who appear to be pure and religious by day are actually consorting with the devil in the woods at night.

The title character begins the story by kissing his wife Faith goodbye and going on an apparently obligatory journey into the forest (one that must be taken at night). He meets a man in the forest who symbolizes the devil, and this devil takes him through the woods and eventually to a satanic ritual. Along the way, they meet people from the town, and the devil exposes their hidden sins and secrets. For example, Goody Cloyse, who was Brown's religion teacher, is called a "friend" of the devil. This shows that she is holy by day but wicked by night; in other words, she has a dark side under her social facade.

Later, Brown sees that even his wife Faith is involved in the ritual in the woods. It seems everyone in town is a sinner and hides some dark secrets about his or her past or behavior. Though the other townspeople seem to accept this truth and go about their daily lives, Brown is ruined by the discovery and is unhappy for the rest of his life. The story suggests that even the people who seem the holiest and purest in society can be hiding dark secrets. It would be hypocritical for those people, then, to hold others to standards they cannot themselves meet.

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Young Goodman Brown

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