What did goodman brown's role (family/social) have to do with the onset or beginning to his madness?

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sagetrieb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm not sure I would identify his state as "madness," for it gives it a pathology that in my view is more symbolic than real.  But certainly the social/cultural context of his life generate his demise at the end of the story.  That context would include the setting, for it takes place in the Puritan village of Salem, first settled in 1626 and the site of the famous witchcraft hysterial of 1691-1792.  John Hathorne, one of Hawthorne's ancestors presided over the Salem with trials as a judge, and Hawthorne was born in Salem in 1804. This information would suggest the guilt that beleaguers Brown, which he might project on others in his village in his "dream" of walking through the forest.  "Goodman" is a respectful title of address for individuals not of gentle birth (according to a footnote accompanying my edition of the story), indicating that Brown is not particularly well educated and therefore perhaps more susceptible to suggestions and less able to separate what he imagines from what "is." In addition, his lack of status could account for his "desire" to find fault with his "betters," such as the minister who taught him, seeing him as an agent of the devil and therefore less "good" than he.  Perhaps gender plays into this as well. 

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Young Goodman Brown

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