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One of the enduring questions about Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" is Goodman Brown's motivation for leaving his loving wife, Faith, and taking a physical or spiritual journey into the wilderness, which represents, to 17thC. Puritans, the home of the Devil, his Indian allies, the abode of pure evil. No Puritan in his right mind would voluntarily go into the wilderness at night and alone. Central to that question is Goodman Brown's character and, to a lesser extent, Faith's character. As is common with several of Hawthorne's short stories and novels, the analysis of character is difficult because we have a third-person objective narrator who cannot see into the hearts and minds of the characters. We cannot look into a character, so our analysis is based only on a character's speech and actions.
Our first insight into Faith's character comes in paragraph two in which she pleads with Goodman Brown to stay with her. In the process, Faith's speech establishes her strong Puritan faith and the fears that accompany that belief system:
A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeared of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year.
Faith exhibits one of the most important beliefs of Puritans in the early to late 17thC., that is, the belief that Satan can attack a person of faith during a dream. Puritans believed not only that Satan could take physical form and intervene in the daily lives of people but also that individuals could be attacked and lured into evil while they slept. In this case, Faith's concern is a completely conventional Puritan response to the threat of evil--she wants and needs to be protected by her husband even while asleep. Faith is, in short, the perfect example of a Puritan woman whose faith is strong but who recognizes that evil is always a present threat. Her concern is also heightened because Goodman Brown's journey is taking place ("of all nights of the year") on October 31, All Hallow's Eve (Halloween), one of the most dangerous nights of the year.
Goodman Brown, a seemingly good example of a Puritan married young man, is intent on taking a journey that is both dangerous physically--there are Indians in the forest--but also spiritually--the forest, the wilderness, is where evil resides. In essence, he laughs off Faith's concerns:
What, my sweet, pretty wife, does thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?
Hawthorne makes it clear that, despite his Puritan belief system and his love for his wife, Goodman Brown is intent on taking a journey that can have no good ending. Given the description so far, we can only assume that Goodman Brown, like many youths, wants to explore the dark side while he can and does not perceive the spiritual danger he is placing himself in.
That Goodman Brown understands some, but not all, of the risks he is taking is clear in his last view of Faith, which elicits his observation that he is a "wretch . . . to leave her on such an errand!" At this point, there can be no doubt that Brown understands that his journey is a betrayal of both his wife Faith and his religious faith. In allegorical terms, Faith represents religious faith, and the name Goodman Brown becomes ironic because Goodman is no longer good. His betrayal of wife and belief system is indeed wretched and exhibits a flawed character.
Goodman Brown's last comment before he enters the forest indicates his very conventional belief that Faith's strong faith will be sufficient to redeem him:
Well, she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.
In other words, in Brown's view, Faith's beliefs are strong enough to bring Brown back into the Puritan fold even after he has made a conscious decision to reject his beliefs, his faith, on a temporary basis and to look for the devil in the forest.
In these few paragraphs, then, Faith's character exemplifies a conventional and strong Puritan belief system--she is faith personified--and Brown, sad to say, is depicted as a young man whose moral compass is wavering and beginning to point south, and this weakness will ultimately destroy Brown's and Faith's lives.
Hawthorne's story, however, is not just about Young Goodman Brown's weak character or Faith's faith. Hawthorne's purpose is to show how a repressive religious belief system can twist a person's mind to the point where that person rejects everything he has been taught to believe.
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