Young Goodman Brown and the Salem Witch Trials: What's really creeping me out about "Young Goodman Brown" is that at least two of the characters presented at the putative witches' sabbath are actual people from the Salem witch trials. Goody Cloyse, the pious old woman, was tried in 1692 for witchcraft and sentenced. Another character, Martha Carrier, was tried and hanged for witchcraft in 1692 Salem. Hawthorne, most people agree, uses Young Goodman Brown to represent the 17th century New England Puritan mindset. He seems to be linking Brown's loss of faith with the violence of the witchcraft trials that followed, even though he doesn't actually describe those trials or violent episodes. My guess is Hawthorne—the master of ambiguity—chose to focus on the psychology of guilt that led to the violence. What makes the tale scary to me is that the frightening tone of the story has real-life parallels that are more shocking than any fiction could be. What do you all think?

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It has never been absolutely clear to me whether Hawthorne, in this tale and others, is presenting a starkly negative view of mankind—that all are sinners—or rather, is showing that "sin" is a false concept used hypocritically by people to point fingers and to condemn others. Goodman Brown is taken...

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It has never been absolutely clear to me whether Hawthorne, in this tale and others, is presenting a starkly negative view of mankind—that all are sinners—or rather, is showing that "sin" is a false concept used hypocritically by people to point fingers and to condemn others. Goodman Brown is taken on a journey in which he is shown a vision of universal human evil. The result is that he instantly becomes a hardened, cynical man. Probably, Hawthorne's message is that the path Brown takes is the wrong one—first, in being seduced by the mysterious stranger into the excursion through the forest, and second, in allowing the visions he is shown to destroy his love for his wife, who is aptly (and with rather heavy symbolism) called Faith, and for everyone else. Even if all men are "sinners," Hawthorne's theme here and elsewhere seems to be that this doesn't mean we should condemn them. There should be tolerance and forgiveness for everyone, because no one is perfect. Hawthorne creates a parable using the dark setting of early New England to teach a lesson that evil exists in the world, but that (unlike what his severe Puritan ancestors believed) one should embrace the world—meaning people, regardless of their failings—instead of rejecting it. Goodman Brown's wife, Faith, is really no different from Hester in The Scarlet Letter, who is condemned and held up to ridicule, essentially for the "sin" of love. In both cases, those who condemn them are the worse sinners.

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I agree.  It’s hard to imagine that something this terrible happened in our country.  The Salem Witch Trials are a source of national shame.  However, I think Hawthorne’s point was that this kind of thing happens again and again.  It could happen anywhere.  Consider the McCarthy hearings, Japanese internment camps, and the persecution of Muslims after 9/11.

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