Symbolism plays a major role in the message that Nathaniel Hawthorne aims to convey in his story “Young Goodman Brown”. Hawthorne made use of symbolic situations which represents a corrupt and masked society that is still applicable in the present time. In this story, Hawthorne narrates a seemingly dreamlike experience of Goodman Brown in the midst of an evil ritual in the woods where he and his wife attempted to participate in. Brief Summary of Young Goodman Brown Young Goodman Brown is a recently married man who goes out for the night after bidding goodbye to his dear wife, Faith.
He tries hard to push away his guilt of pursuing an evil plan while he leaves her that evening by promising to make it up to her someday. As he goes through the dark forest wondering if the devil is just around, he becomes hesitant in furthering his plan on joining some mysterious people in an evil ritual somewhere deep in the forest.
Upon explaining why he was late to a decently dressed man because his wife kept him back, they are accompanied by another traveler whose age he reckon to be about fifty.
He notices the remarkable serpent-like staff of the first man who addressed him. Upon meeting the other people who would join them, he is surprised to find out that most of the upright and holy people in his neighborhood are present; the woman who taught him catechism, the minister, Deacon Gookin, and the most surprising of all—his wife! He finds out that Faith is the reason why the ritual is initiated.
He realizes that he had lost his Faith so he resolves in pursuing his original plan and be converted to evil like the rest of them.
However, as Goodman Brown and Faith approach the altar to be anointed by the evil blood, Goodman Brown orders Faith to look up to heaven and resist the evil. As soon as the words leaves his mouth, he finds himself alone in the woods wondering if he had just dreamt the ritual. He comes back to his neighborhood a changed man. He becomes distrustful and doubtful of his wife and neighbors even to the day he died. Symbolisms The story itself is the entire representation of a hypocritical society.
It is already a symbolism that further emphasizes the hypocrisy of Puritanism. It is clear that Hawthorne aims to criticize puritan society most especially the time of the Salem Witch Trials where almost twenty alleged witches were hanged with spectral evidence as the only proof. Like Goodman Brown, Hawthorne is believed to have also doubted the nature of sin in the society. Most probably, it is his way to push away the guilt when he found out that he is a descendant of one of the major persecutors in the witch trials.
The story also contains some biographical elements where the devil reminds him, “I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem” (Hawthorne 113). The story seems to be a full representation of the author’s view about a strict puritan society. Moreover, the setting of the story is also quite symbolic as the initial part of the story describes Goodman Brown entering a dark forest where the witches gather at Sabbath. Hawthorne’s description of the dark and gloomy forest indicates that a dark critical turning point in his life is about to happen.
“The darkness is not only physical, it is satanic” (Crowley 68). The story also symbolizes man’s struggle to avoid temptation by the devil. By the use of spectral evidence, Hawthorne is able to covey the idea that the devil could be lurking in the shadows even of the finest men (Reis 200). When Goodman Brown finds out that the most religious people in his neighborhood are actually members of the ritual in the forest, he realizes how evil can come in many deceptive forms. This realization leads him to his misery because of his inability to identify if his experience is merely a dream or a frightful reality.
Goodman Brown can be considered a real good man before the encounter in the woods. He is considered to be good to his wife and he loves her dearly. He even refers to her as, “My love and my Faith” (Hawthorne 111) and hesitates to go on further with the meeting, “What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. . . ” (Hawthorne 111). However, the goodness and naivete within him is altered when he discovers respectable and supposedly holy people are part of the evil ritual.
This shows Hawthorne’s attitude towards highly religious people such as the early Puritans. It means that not all religious people are holy, and sometimes, they are just posing hypocrisy to redeem themselves. Even the name of his wife, Faith, symbolizes the things that he had lost upon full realization of evil in his neighborhood. He loses his wife, Faith, when he sees her in the woods and he also loses his spiritual faith towards goodness. “The story is not about the evil of other people but about Brown’s doubt, his recovery of the possibility of universal evil” (Levin 121).
Conclusion Young Goodman Brown might probably just pass as a short ordinary story that involves supernatural encounters. While it is true that is merely fictional and not to be taken seriously in reality, it consists of symbolisms which are important to take into account. It consists of political and religious symbolisms which are indirectly told by the author to allow the readers to shape their own interpretation by themselves. Obviously, the story include more significant and in-depth matters in life than what is initially conveyed to be unrealistic and superficial.
Crowley, Joseph Donald. Nathaniel Hawthorne. London: Taylor & Francis, 1971. Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown. ” Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales. Ed. Brian Harding. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 111–123. Levin, David. “Shadows of Doubt: Specter Evidence in Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’. ” On Hawthorne: The Best from American Literature. Eds. Edwin Harrison Cady and Louis J. Budd. United States of America: Duke University Press, 1990. 114-122. Reis, Elizabeth. Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England. New York: Cornell University Press, 1997.