What is Hawthorne's tone toward the character of Goodman Brown and if the tone changes during the story, how?Give me evidence from the story if possible please. Thank you!

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since Goodman Brown's name is ironic, it seems that Nathaniel Hawthorne maintains a rather skeptical tone toward his character, especially in the beginning of the narrative.  For instance, as Goodman resolves "after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven," it is evident that he intends to "tarry" not with his wife, but with temptation and may not be so good.  That he is rather sanctimonious is also evinced by his feeling "himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose."

As Goodman proceeds, he expects evil:

"There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, "What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow?"

Because he suspects evil, Goodman does, indeed, discover it in the second traveller who appears. Yet, he deludes himself, telling the old man with a staff who resembles him that he is the "first of the name of Brown that ever took this path..."

Repeatedly, Hawthorne in his skepticism suggests the hypocrisy of Young Goodman Brown. When, for example, Goodman protests that his father never ventured so far into the woods, the old man (who is the devil) laughs,

"Well said, Goodman Brown!  I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's not trifle to say.  I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman smartly through the streets of Salem...." 

As they continue on their path, the elderly man takes on the appearance of Goodman Brown's grandfather.  But, in his guilt, Goodman resolves to return to Faith.  He applauds himself greatly, and thinks hypocritically how clear a conscience he will have when he meets the minister in the morning.  Goodman, then, turns from his "guilty purpose."  But Deacon Gookin and others arrive for the initiations of a young woman.  Goodman is filled with "uncertainty,"  "doubt," but after the mass, Goodman approaches the congregations with whom he "felt a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart."

In the end, the tone of the narrative becomes one that is almost tragic:  "it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown" as a "stern a sad, a darkly meditative, a distruftful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream."  Young Goodman Brown has lost his faith on this night in the primeval forest because he has deceived himself.

According to Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia,Romanticists held that absolute principles lead to personal failure.  Since Hawthorne was certainly a Romanticist, it is consistent with his thinking, then, that his tone regarding Young Goodman Brown would move from skepticism to disapproval.



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Young Goodman Brown

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