To what extent is Brown the symbolic "everyman" or representative of humankind in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown?"Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, Goodman Brown is symbolic of "everyman" or humankind in several ways.

First, Brown believes that "what you see is what you get." He never thinks to search beneath the surface of things, and takes everyone at face value. When he finds that people in his community, as well as his own ancestors, have been "in league with the devil," he is devastated. (It may not been that they served the devil at all, but that they have "sinned" in general.)

Believing the best of everyone to begin with is not Brown's mistake, but it is found in his belief that others' mistakes make them evil. Goodman Brown lacks faith in his fellowman. His short-sightedness blinds him to the good that there is in the people around him.

The reader does not know if what Brown saw in the woods was a dream or not—once again, however, he believes what he sees without question. People have disappointed him because they are not perfect, and unlike the precepts of his faith, he can find no way to forgive them. He alienates himself from his wife as well as the rest of the community.

Brown is hypocritcal. He judges Faith because of what he believes he saw her doing in the forest; but what about his journey? He walked along with the devil. He was at the black mass as best as he can tell. Yte he comes home with no explanation as to where he has been; however, Faith does not judge him or ask any questions, but welcomes him with love.

Brown is unChristian-like in his behavior as he rejects others—and he misses the point that Jesus trafficked with sinners all the time, but Brown has no time for those who are imperfect. Brown thinks that he is perfect. Had he paid attention to the teachings of the Bible, which he is so quick to hold others to, he would remember no man is perfect.

Hawthorne presents sin as an inescapable part of human nature.

In the story, Young Goodman Brown actually perceives that he is better than everyone else: other people have sinned, but not he.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the origin of the name goodman meaning the master of the household, Young Goodman Brown can certainly represent the Puritan Everyman who is subject to the Calvinistic temptation to find the depravity of man everywhere.  As in the morality play Everyman, the conflict between good and evil is illustrated through the conflicts that Brown has within himself and with other characters in an allegorical tale. 

To begin with, Brown sets off upon his journey with the old man, who represents the devil as "he of the serpent," and tells him that he is late because his wife Faith "kept me back a while."  As he and the old man traverse the path to the forest primevil, Goodman sees Goody Cloyse and Deacon Gookin of his congregation. The old man puts forth his staff and touches her with "what seemed the serpent's tail. As she flies off, 

"The devil!" screamed the pious old lady.

Having reached the forest primevil with the old man, who appears to be the darker side of him, Goodman is faced with temptations.  However, in his blind faith, he "applauds himself greatly" and thinks of how clear his conscience will be the next day when he meets the minister. "With heaven aabove and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!"

But, when Goodman hears the "figure" who leads the black mass pronounce,

"Evil is the nature of mankind.  Evil must be your only happiness.  welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race" 

he cannot resist the temptation to believe this Calvinistic principle as he sees the members of his community gathered at this sinister ceremony.  Watching his Faith's pink ribbons waft in the air, Goodman loses his belief in the goodness of mankind and becomes henceforth a misanthrope, a "hoary corpse" whose "dying hour was gloom."  But, unlike Everyman who enters his grave with Good Deeds and can, thus, be saved, the Puritan Goodman, for whom there exists a superiority of faith to good works, cannot be. For, having lost his faith, Goodman Brown ranks among the Puritan "damned."



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Young Goodman Brown

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