How is resistance represented in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"?

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timbrady's profile pic

timbrady | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Resistence is impossible ... depending what you are talking about.  Although Brown resists the journey that he is about to undertake, it is something that he/none of us, can resist.

My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise.

We all must go through some sort of initiation rite where we learn that our young/childish/immature vision of the world oversimplifies the complex realities of life.  Brown wanders through the forest (perhaps), seeing many things that "seem" or "appear" or "might" indicate the presence of evil in his family and in his fell townspeople.

Toward the end of the evening, when he appears to be at a "Black Mass," he utters the words that this question seems to be based on:

 

"Faith! Faith!" cried the husband, "look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one."


He thinks his wife, Faith, is there, but he is also clearly pleading for his own "Faith," religious and in human nature" to resist the evil he suspects is everywhere and in everyone; the rest of the story makes clear that he is unable to do so.  Because he is unable to compromise, to resist, as it were, his need for everyone to be perfect, his life takes a turn for the worse and he dies a miserable man.

The enemy of the good is the perfect.

aleighdavis's profile pic

aleighdavis | College Teacher

Posted on

In Young Goodman Brown, Hawthorne's presentation of resistance (to evil, to injustice, etc.) is hopelessly bleak. Conscious resistance gains no ground because of the unconscious and uncontrollable evil at the center of human nature. Such an idea is illustrated early on in Brown's attempt to resist Satan: " 'I have scruples, touching the matter thou wot'st of.' 'Sayest thou so?' replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. 'Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go, and if I convince thee not, thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet. 'Too far, too far!' exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk" (Norton Anthology of American Literature 611). Even as Brown voices resistance to Satan's will, his body unconsciously submits. After this scene, the reader learns that the man of the serpent has known Goodman Brown's family quite well for many generations, and has aiding the Browns in persecuting Quakers and Indians. Young Brown's conscious attempts to be good are uncontrollably soiled by his family history. In fact, the young man's attempts to be good, to resist Satan, become hypocritical and merely self laudatory as he applauds himself for a clear conscience, even as he remains "conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither" (614). In light of this set up of the uselessness of resistance, do you think that the disappearance of the nightmarish scene means that Brown ultimately succeeded in resisting Satan by invoking Faith , or might the visible celebration of evil have merely vanished to the conscious mind, becoming a secret part of his inner heart? What might his consequent distrust of his fellow men signify? Has his knowledge of the evil at the heart of all men really given him a method for truly resisting evil and turning to good? Or has it simply pushed him even further away from any possibility of achieving true goodness?  Pay close attention to the tone of the story's end when asking yourself these questions. Also consider Hawthorne’s attitude toward the Puritan belief in original sin (see “Young Goodman Brown: Themes” and the Hawthorne biography). Is this depiction of resistance Hawthorne's personal opinion or perhaps a dramatization of Purtitan beliefs?

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