Why is the character of Goody Cloyse an important element of the story and how do Brown's feelings for her change after the witches' Sabbath?

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In the story, Goody Cloyse had been young Goodman's Brown's Sunday School teacher and spiritual guide when he was young. When he sees her in the forest going to the devil's meeting, Brown is both hurt and amazed that such a" virtuous" woman would be in league with the devil. This begins to weaken the faith that he has believed in since he was a child.

Along with the Minister and Deacon Goodkin, Goody Cloyse represents the "best of the best" of Puritan society to Brown. Their piety and righteousness are models for him and when he finds they are part of the devil's parish (no pun intended) his beliefs are shattered. What Brown never reconciles is that there is both good and bad in people, even those who are supposed to be model of goodness. Interestingly enough, both Goody Cloyse and Deacon Gookin were real people, part of the Salem Witchcraft Trials in 1692.

 

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Goody Cloyse is an important element of the story because her character draws attention to how spiritual hysteria can lead to morbid paranoia. The real Goody (Sarah) Cloyse was accused of witchcraft by members of her congregation; despite her exemplary life, she was forced to stand trial based solely on the testimony of impressionable young women. As with the real Goody Cloyse, Hawthorne's Cloyse is by all appearances a devout and charitable Puritan. However, like her historical counterpart, she is also characterized as a sorceress of malevolence.

In the story, Goodman Brown is aghast that his former catechism teacher is a practitioner of the black arts. He becomes extremely wary of her after he witnesses her participation in the witches' Sabbath. Altogether, Goodman Brown becomes disillusioned by what appears to be Goody Cloyse's superficial piety. However, Hawthorne's use of magical realism lends a deceptive aura to his story; even Goodman Brown asks himself whether he had merely "fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting." Goodman Brown's desperate query leads us to question both his sanity and the veracity of the testimonies during the Salem Witch Trials.

Let's compare the fictional Goody Cloyse and the historical character. In Hawthorne's story, Goody Cloyse mentions being anointed with "the juice of smallage and cinque-foil and wolf's-bane...Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe." Here, Hawthorne draws on 17th century Puritan superstitions about witchcraft and sorcery to characterize Goody Cloyse as a malevolent character. The fictional Cloyse even complains about the loss of her broomstick at the hands of one Goody Cory.

Traditionally, witches were said to use magical ointments made from henbane, wolfsbane, and hemlock to stay aloft on broomsticks and other implements. In the story, Goody Cloyse mentions being anointed with wolfs-bane. Interestingly, henbane can cause hallucinations. Consider how Hawthorne uses magical realism to characterize the events at the witches' Sabbath and how Goodman Brown later agonizes over the "reality" of what he has seen.

The historical Cloyse was accused of being a deacon of the black arts and for drinking the blood of young women. Again, Hawthorne highlights ancient superstitions about witches ingesting the blood of the young in order to keep their own youth. Hawthorne's surrealistic portrayal of Goody Cloyse's sorcery and the events of the witches Sabbath lends credence to a central theme in his story: the conflict between reality versus fantasy borne out of religious hysteria. Through Goody Cloyse's character, Hawthorne inspires us to examine the kind of morbid paranoia that led to misguided justice during the Salem Witch trials.

 

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