Is Salem truly populated by hypocrites who cover their actions with a veneer of respectability?Is Salem truly populated by hypocrites who cover their actions with a veneer of respectability?
If Hawthorne is to be the definitive source, he probably would say "yes" to your question. However, it's important to remember that he wrote "Young Goodman Brown" several hundred years after the incidents in the story supposedly occurred. Hawthorne was also embarrassed because one of his distant relatives, Judge Hathorne had been a judge at the Salem Witchcraft Trials. He even changed the spelling of his name so people would not make the connection between the two. Looking at the textual evidence in the story, Hawthorne leaves the actual characterization of the population ambiguous. He asks the question"Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?" Thus, it is up to the reader to make up his or her own mind. Personally, I believe Salem was much like other towns, composed of true believers, hypocrites, and non-believers trying to live in a harsh New World enviornment.
The history of Salem and the witchcraft trials leads one to wonder what could have caused such strict Christians to have tortured people as they did and be so hypocritical. Still, the Puritans were banished from England because of their radical religious fervor, so perhaps the words of Friar Laurence of "Romeo and Juliet" hold true for the Puritans's excessive forbiddance of sin: "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied...."
Hawthorne's criticism in this story, as in his famous novel, "The Scarlet Letter," is that the strictness of the Puritan forbade human fraility which is a reality that cannot be denied. This is the hypocrisy which Hawthorne perceives in these narratives.
Hypocrite is a powerful word that to me specifies people who espouse a set of values and consciously act contrary to those values. What I have always found in "Young Goodman Brown" is a world of normal, less than perfect people --- and Goodman Brown who cannot deal with ambiguity ... the fact that there is some good and some bad in all of us. Being unable to totally live up to our ideals doesn't make us hypcrites ... it makes us human. "The enemy of the good is the perfect."
Yes! Hawthorne's criticism of Puritanism in this tale as in other works of his is that the focus on piety and sinlessless created an environment that bred hypocrisy and where human sinfulness was ignored and attempted to be denied. Accepting the 'dark side' of our humanity, Hawthorne seems to argue, is a vital part of accepting ourselves for who we really are. To ignore that part of our identity is to create hypocrites and sin that is masked beneath the exterior of social respectability.