Losing Faith, Young Goodman Brown Essay, Research Paper
Elizabeth Van Flue
April 7, 1999
Throughout the short story “Young Goodman Brown,” written by Nathaniel Hawthorne the main character is searching for Faith in what appears to be an increasingly corrupt world. Faith takes on a double meaning in this story, for Faith is used both as the name of Young Goodman Brown’s pretty young wife and the spiritual devotion of Young Goodman Brown to the Puritan Faith. The dual usage of Faith in this short story, along with its theme of devil worship amongst Puritan society draws the reader in, and leaves the story imprinted on his brain for a long time to come.
As the story opens, Young Goodman Brown is about to enter the forest to partake upon an “evil purpose.” He leaves behind his sweet, pretty, young wife of three months, who wears pretty pink ribbons in her hair, urging her to “Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee” (p. 102). Young Goodman Brown is hesitant about leaving his Faith behind to go on such an errand, to venture into the forest where “the devil himself could be at my very elbow!” (p. 103). Once in the forest, Young Goodman Brown is met with “the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree” (p. 103). When questioned as to why he has dallied in meeting this figure, Young Goodman Brown replies “Faith kept me back awhile” (p. 103). In the literal sense, Young Goodman Brown’s pretty young wife delayed him from his meeting with the dark figure by begging him to “put off his journey until sunrise and sleep in his own bed to-night” (p. 103). In a symbolic sense, Young Goodman Brown’s devotion to all that is just in the world has made him hesitant to enter the corrupt reality of the forest.
When traveling down the dark path, with he who carries a staff resembling a great black snake, Young Goodman Brown is told he is “but a little way in the forest yet” (p. 103). To this Young Goodman Brown replies it is “too far,” and that “his father never went on such an errand” (p. 103). In reality, Young Goodman Brown’s father has walked the very same path, beside the man carrying the serpent. In fact, all of the highly moral people of the town walk in the forest at night. Among the devil worshippers are “faces that would be seen the next day at the council board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward” (p. 109). Deacon Gookin, who preaches from the pulpit about righteousness, is the leader of the Devil worship, and Goody Cloyse who teaches the catechism too walks the dark path. It seems that in this town of fraudulent Puritans, no one is immune to the power of the dark one. No one, that is but Young Goodman Brown, for he alone has his Faith.
As Young Goodman Brown continues down the dark path, he is continually searching for his lost Faith. His Faith would not allow him to enter such a dark forest where the Devil reigns as king. He screams for Faith in agony and desperation, but the echoes of the forest mock him, and something flutters “lightly down through the air and caught on the branch of a tree” (p. 107). It is a pink ribbon; the last remnant of Young Goodman Brown’s lost Faith. The pink ribbon in a literal sense proves that Young Goodman Brown’s wife is lost in the forest, for her hair is always adorned with “pretty pink ribbons.” The fact that it is being tossed upon the wind is symbolic of Young Goodman Brown’s inner faith, which has been blown away the moment he entered the Devil’s playground. Seeing the pink ribbon float down and catch upon the branch of a tree, Young Goodman Brown is aware that his inner Faith has deserted him and he proclaims “My Faith is gone! There is no good on earth: and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given” (p. 107).
Coming upon the burning alter of the Devil, Young Goodman Brown recognizes “a score of the church members of Salem village famous for their especial sanctity” (p. 109). Seeing them, he questions “But where is Faith?” (p. 109) both searching for his wife and his lost inner morality.
The sighting of his wife among the Devil’s congregation proves that even the strongest Faith can be tempted into darkness. Young Goodman Brown begs his wife to “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one” (p. 109). In a symbolic nature he is begging himself, his very being, his own Faith, to resist the lure of the wicked one. “Whether Faith obeyed, he knew not” (p. 111).
Young Goodman Brown awakes to a calm Salem village, with “The good old minister taking a walk along the graveyard to get an appetite for breakfast and meditate his sermon, and Goody Cloyse catechizing a little girl. He spies the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at the sight of him that she skipped along the street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village” (p. 111). Young Goodman Brown looks sternly and sadly into her face, and passes on without a greeting.
“Had Young Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?” (p. 112). It does not matter, for Young Goodman Brown becomes “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man” (p. 111). He shrinks from the bosom of Faith, and he dies a “hoary corpse” (p. 111). It does not matter that Young Goodman Brown rejected the Devil at his fiery altar that night in the forest. The Devil has claimed his Faith in humanity in another way