Ideas for Group Discussions
Hawthorne is a master of allegory and symbolism, and as a result his works are fertile ground for discussion of moral and social issues. Through his presentation of details about physical setting, through subtle suggestions about the characters, and through his controlled use of point of view, Hawthorne transforms the story of a man's encounter with Satan-worshippers into a tale suggestive of every person's struggle to determine the innermost thoughts of those they know — including those with whom they are most intimate. The wisdom of undertaking that quest and the consequences of having done so are sure sparks for heated debate among readers who frequently have differing ideas about the efficacy of probing deeply into the motivations of others.
1. Puritan doctrine was based on the notion that man's nature is inherently evil, but salvation is offered through God's grace; those who were to be saved would know that God had favored them with his grace, and their lives would reflect that favor. How is this doctrine examined in "Young Goodman Brown?" What is Hawthorne's belief about the effect of this doctrine on individual people?
2. As Goodman Brown is brought into the circle of devil-worshipers, the dark figure conducting the ceremony delivers a brief sermon. Why does Hawthorne include this speech in the story?
3. When Goodman Brown meets the shadowy figure of his guide in the woods, he is initially skeptical about continuing his journey. The man convinces him to go forward by saying "Let us walk on nevertheless, reasoning as we go." What is the significance of the devil's resorting to "reason" in his conversation with Brown? How does the concept of reason become perverted?
4. Hawthorne carefully controls the point of view in this story. How is his deliberate choice to reveal events as Brown sees them critical to readers' understanding of the story's central theme?
5. Like Goodman Brown, the title character of Hawthorne's story "Wakefield" also leaves his family without giving them a reason. In what ways is this figure similar to Goodman Brown? What is Hawthorne trying to show about human nature through the behavior of these two figures?