What does the staff represent in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne?

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Another interesting use of the staff as symbol occurs when Goody Cloyse asks the Old Man for his arm to help her walk to the meeting deep in the forest.  He responds that he cannot lend her his arm, but he does offer his staff:

So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi.  Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance.

The scene would resonate with Hawthorne's readers because it comes from the episode in Exodus, chapter 7,  in the Bible in which the Pharaoh asks Moses for a miracle to prove God's power.  Moses then tells his brother Aaron to throw down his staff, which turns into a serpent.  Pharaoh's's magicians then throw down their staffs, which also turn into serpents.  Unfortunately for the Egyptian magi's serpents, Aaron's staff-serpent devours them.

It is likely that Hawthorne included this episode to reinforce the point that the staff is indeed a serpent,...

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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