American Gothic literature has an affinity for the dark side of human nature, but in over two centuries of writing, the vices discussed vary, reflecting the experiences of the era and beliefs of the era, A classic example of this dichotomy can be found when comparing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” published in 1835, and Stephen King’s “That Feeling You Can Only Say What It is in French,” written in 1998i In their writing, Hawthorne and King explore different forms of sin and suffering influenced by their mocking opinions of the ideals of their respective time periods The former was disgusted by a Puritanical past while the latter articulated his pessimism about the 20th-century American dream, resulting in their two distinct versions of Hellt Nathaniel Hawthorne was a novelist who often analyzed his Puritan roots through his writing.
Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Hawthorne was a descendant of Justice John Hathorne, the remorseless judge who condemned innocent witches to death in the late 1600’s Traditional gothic styles were employed in his short stories, such as a dark setting and a Devil-esque character, but with his ancestor’s deeds and Salem upbringing piquing his interest, Hawthorne pens evil with a skewed interpretation of the Puritan faith.
A very strong parallel can be drawn between the story of Young Goodman Brown and Hawthorne’s own life The novelette has the main character following a shadowy figure who holds considerable resemblance to Brown’s own grandfather, and through the story, it becomes apparent to the reader that this person is none but the Devil himself, Hawthorne, disturbed by his own great-great-grandfather‘s actions clearly molds Brown in his own personal Both have to come to terms with the fact that the family they once respected were not the holy people they were made out to be,
Regardless of his forebearers’ preaching and piety, Hawthorne realized that unjustified massacres occurred in the name of their faith.
This hypocrisy marred his respect for Puritan beliefs, and this cynicism is apparent in his writing. Goodman Brown, as he approaches the devil-worshipping folk, hears “the accents of his own towns-people, men and women both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion table,” (Hawthorne, 4), and realizes that no one is immune to the influence of the evil. In this way, Hawthorne mocks the Puritan ideal of sanctity, suggesting that even the most devout, such as the town‘s deacon and minister, will succumb to the alluring temptation of the Devil, He erases the strict line between good and bad that the Puritans had erected, insinuating that everyone was immoral, including the Puritans themselves, The punishment received by Brown was one that Hawthorne was terrified of himself: inheriting the sinful nature of one‘s ancestors.
The deeds of his forebearers’ provoked Hawthorne to question his own morality. Prayer and faiLh could not prevent the Puritans from committing sin, and therefore nor could anything prevent Hawthorne from doing so. This realization sowed seeds of self doubt in Hawthorne, and consequently, the author explored the fragility of the human principles of right and wrong through his writing. As a result of Young Goodman Brown’s visit into the forest, “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become. After witnessing a man in the likeness of his own grandfather leading a group of Devil worshipping clergy, Brown becomes wary of himself and others. His reaction to the event is far beyond the expected terror, Hawthorne chooses the word “meditative” to suggest that Brown’s reaction was more introspective and caused the character to doubt his own choices, much like Hawthorne himself.
The morning after the spectacle, Brown walks around the town, coming across people he had seen in the forest the previous, “He shrank from the venerable saint [minister] as if to avoid an anathema. His avoidance of the town’s sinners extended past a mere dislike to a physical aversion and he could no longer sit through a sermon nor meet the eyes of his friends. Furthermore, Brown’s own close call with evil led to self doubt. He is anxious with the notion that he could follow in his predecessor’s footsteps, a fear shared with the author that created him, Hawthorne doubted that prayer could save him from the bad karma he inherited from his great-great-grandfather and found the Puritan depiction of good far too simple To Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown,” is a classic example of the way an author’s skepticism about a set of ideals, in this case the Puritan beliefs, can affect the way he or she writes, especially when coupled with suffering so prevalent in Gothic literature, “That Feeling You Can Only Say What it Is in French,” was written more than 150 years after “Young Goodman Brown,” and although it still retains Gothic motifs, it demonstrates a very different sense of suffering.
The author, Stephen King, was born in the 1950’s, in a growing America. With a flood of new immigrants and a booming population, the quintessential American dream was in vogue. Families expected a nice house, a happy family, a greatjob, and a comfortable retirement, Through “That Feeling,” King expresses his pessimistic sentiments about this unrealistic goal. He saw failure and sin to be inevitable parts of life. The story follows a couple celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a trip to Florida, Carol, the wife, experiences severe déja vu, reliving a moment, stuck in time. The author implies that Carol and her husband were killed in a plane crash, and the story is simply an extension of Carol’s thoughts after her death, Unaware of her state, Carol reminisces about her life, revealing a string of disappointing experiences, culminating in a pathetic retirement, King’s opinion on the meaning of sin comes into play when Carol guiltily remembers all the things she’d done in her life. In accordance with the Lime period, the woman dwells on sins far more complex than worshipping the devil.
She reflects on her choice to leave her loving family for a man they did not approve of. “I once murdered a child for you,” she thinks, considering her husband, “And is this what I get in return? To reach my fifties and find out that my husband had to get into some Clairol girl’s pants? Carol‘s bitter memories divulge how the American lifestyle unavoidable, The abortion she had to save her marriage only resulted in her husband having an extramarital affair, She later tries to warrant her decisions, to prove her family wrong, thinking, “She was still married to the man her Gram had called “the big boaster”. At a price, true, but everyone paid a price,” In an attempt to justify her actions Carol’s thoughts instead exemplify King’s cynicism. In their chase for happiness, Carol and Bill commit immoral acts that in retrospect are useless, as they end up just as unhappy on the same plateau as the rest of the countryAlthough she put so much work into having a happy marriage and life, Carol was only rewarded with disappointment, King disagrees with the American idea that hard work can lead to great material wealth and therefore happiness and proves this by narrating Carol’s many struggles.
“That Feeling” mocks the societal values of greed and materialism of the time period. King’s description of Hell is as pessimistic as his view on sin. Instead of burning in the fiery pit Hell is traditionally depicted as, Carol suffers in a place built out of her own guilt. She is forced to repeat the same events of that singular car ride and reflect on her past, unable to break out of this cycle. Towards the end of the story, both Carol and the reader realize that this is more than mere déja vu. Carol remembers a rhyme from her childhood, “Hey there, Mary, what’s the story, save my ass from Purgatory,” (King, 13) In the Christian faith, purgatory is the place between heaven and hell, a sort of limbo, where those with an average record of morality spend the afterlife. This sentence suggests that what Carol experiencing is her own version of purgatory: a monotonous, guilt-ridden parallel to real life. In this way, King shows that his idea of Hell is nothing more than the trials and tribulations people experience every day, His opinion on the American “dream” is that it is a painful path that leads to nowhere.
Each story creates a form of Hell based strictly on the author’s beliefs, or lack thereof Hawthorne reflected his apprehension about the Puritan faith through “Young Goodman Brown,” writing a traditional form of suffering that reflected what he experienced in his own life King, on the other hand, had a modern take on sin, and an agnostic, self-proposed idea of Hell. Both authors rebelled against a conception held by a majority of their peers and thus wrote works unique to their time periods, Being the cynics that they were, Hawthorne and King incite further argument, mocking the societies they come from. Although their constant pessimism may feel exaggerated, both pieces are significant landmarks in literature because they provide an uncommon viewpoint and add a further dimension to their writing using skepticism, provoking thought on previously ignored opinions.