How does Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" function as a moral allegory?
It is felt that the story was written in reaction to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. One of Hawthorne's ancestors was a judge at the trials—where a pious community became slaves to false allegations and superstition. It was an embarrassing heritage for Hawthorne.
Many of his writings deal with themes that delve into "...evil actions of humans and the idea of original sin." Evil actions by humans is central to the allegory. It's important to understand that an allegory in literature is a story of symbolic importance:
...that serves as a disguised representation for meanings other than those indicated on the surface.
In other words, on the surface, the story being read has a plot, characters, conflict and a resolution. It is a story in its own right. However, in an allegory, elements of the tale have a deeper meaning, symbolizing "moral qualities," etc., with the purpose to relay an additional "hidden" message to the reader.
In "Young Goodman Brown," our main character is a member of a devoutly religious society. (Though not named as Puritans, the parallel is clear.) One day the virtuous Brown leaves his newly-wed wife to travel for some unknown reason into the forest. (The Puritans believed the Devil lived in the forest.)
On his trip, Brown meets an old man who is the Devil in disguise, who secretly wants to get Brown to reject his faith. As they walk, Brown senses evil and tries to distance himself. He remembers his ancestors—holy men—whose memory he calls on to help him. The Devil tells him that they were "in league" with him. Strong religious members of his community pass by, going to a Black Mass....
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