What is the significance of this quote from "Young Goodman Brown"? The second traveler was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable...
What is the significance of this quote from "Young Goodman Brown"?
The second traveler was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him. ... They might have been taken for father and son. He had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and would not have felt abashed at the governor's dinner-table, or in King William's court. But the only thing about him, that could be fixed upon as remarkable, was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.
As Goodman Brown travels through the woods, he meets a man that the narrator says could have been an older version of Goodman. “They might have been taken for father and son.” This statement is the first clue of who the stranger is, but Goodman does not recognize yet. Next, the narrator states that the stranger “had an indescribable air of one who knew the world.” He has a certain sophistication and self-confidence. Finally, the narrator describes the staff that the stranger holds, which looks like a “great black snake.” In fact, the narrator swears the staff appears to “twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.” Dismissing this last statement as an illusion brought on by the darkness, the narrator continues the story.
However, the readers cannot dismiss the clues that Hawthorne has given. Even if Goodman does not understand right away that he is dealing with Satan himself, the readers must recognize that fact. The clues are there. The man takes on Goodman’s form: the devil is known to be able to take on any form in order to tempt people. It would make sense that he takes on the form of Goodman’s father so that Goodman will trust him. He carries a snake staff which seems to come alive: in the Bible, the devil is known as the serpent who tempts Eve into taking the forbidden apple. Surely, Satan would be able to make his walking stick come alive since he is supernatural; and what symbol is more appropriate for him than a snake?
This part of the story is significant in that it introduces Goodman and the reader to the evil that Goodman encounters, and it helps to characterize a dark side of the protagonist. Although he is a “good man,” he knowingly walks into the dark forest at night; he knows what he will encounter there. The forest was an object of fear to Puritans, who believed that the devil lurked there waiting for someone to tempt. Anyone who willingly entered the forest was looking for trouble, so Goodman is not as innocent as he is portrayed.
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