What is shared in common between"Young Goodman Brown," by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and "Gimpel the Fool," by Isaac Beshevis Singer?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown" and Isaac Beshevis Singer's short story "Gimpel the Fool" share the common theme of developing distrust due to deceptive human nature. However, in Singer's short story, the title character Gimpel rises above deception and finds renewed faith, whereas the title character Goodman Brown dies in his desolate feelings of distrust.

Hawthorne's short story opens with Goodman Brown venturing into the woods one evening with a man in his 50s who looks a lot like Goodman Brown, so much so that they "might have been taken for father and son," but the man is later identified as the devil. Goodman Brown believes that they are going into the woods alone but is soon surprised to see the entire village journeying into the woods, including his church minister, his church deacon, and even his new young bride, Faith, whom he thinks is so innocent and pure. Deep in the forest, he sees that the whole village is gathering for a "witch-meeting." Yet, towards the end of the story, just as Goodman Brown is begging Faith to "look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!," the whole scene before him vanishes, leaving him to wonder, had he "only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?" Regardless of the fact that he questions what he truly witnessed in the forest, his visions shake his very existence. He can no longer trust any of the villagers, not even his wife, and dies a hopeless and bitter man.

In contrast to Goodman Brown, Singer's title character Gimpel begins his own story fully trusting humanity. In fact, he is so trusting, he is completely gullible. He is gullible to the extent that he believes his unfaithful wife when she says her children are his regardless of the impossibility. Yet, when on her deathbed she confesses to her unfaithfulness and asks for his forgiveness, similarly to Goodman Brown, all of his faith in humanity and even in God completely crumbles. However, yet again in contrast to Goodman Brown, Gimpel is able to redeem his own sense of faith by venturing on a journey in which he tells stories and realizes that, as he phrases it, "there really are no lies." Nothing is impossible, and what seems impossible is dreamed of later on. He further concludes that the world is imaginary, made up of nothing but stories God told when he spoke the world into existence. Hence, in contrast to Goodman Brown, Gimpel ends his story having redeemed his faith in both humanity and God and is quite prepared to die "joyfully."

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