’s “Young Goodman Brown” Essay, Research Paper
September 19, 2001
Symbolism in “Young Goodman Brown”
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is full of symbolism throughout the story. Perhaps the most interesting examples of symbolism include the title character, Young Goodman Brown, as well as his wife, Faith, and the woods that Young Goodman Brown enters on his journey. Included are many allusions to Christianity and also to evil and sin. These references are expressed mainly through characters and settings in the story.
The character Young Goodman Brown is an excellent example of symbolism being used in a story. First of all, the name Young Goodman Brown implies that he is indeed a good man, which is a reference to his Christian faith. This implies that he is a good man who has the morals and values of a good Christian. Also, the last name Brown implies that he is just an ordinary man with a common last name. This usage of a common last name helps the reader realize that almost anyone could be this man, that he is just as ordinary as anyone else. Additionally, in the beginning of the story, he is referred to as Young Goodman Brown, with the emphasis on Young as a reference to his innocence, and implies that he is without sin. After he enters the woods, however, he is no longer referred to as Young Goodman Brown, just Goodman Brown, as if the innocence and purity he once possessed is with him no longer. He left his wife, Faith, for sin and impurity in the woods, so he no longer deserves the title Young Goodman Brown.
Young Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, is also an important symbol in this story. Her name alone implies that she is a symbol for goodness and the Christian life that Young Goodman Brown leaves behind when he departs on his journey. In the story, it says that she calls out to him and he turns his back on her, which can either be taken literally or in the sense of one turning his back on God and Christian life, because he heads for the woods, an implication of sin and witchcraft. In her hair, Faith wears pink ribbons, which are a sign of her innocence and playfulness. When Goodman Brown sees her pink ribbons in her hair, he is aware of her innocence, so when he finds a pink ribbon belonging to her clinging to a tree branch in the woods, he doubts the faith of her and of all those around him.
The woods are also an important symbol in the tale of Young Goodman Brown. The story is written in times past, when the woods were thought of as evil places where witchcraft often took place. This is reinforced when Goodman Brown sees the townspeople amongst him in the woods, and is appalled to see them, his wife and the preacher included. Also, it is mentioned that the stranger he meets in the woods bears a strong resemblance to Goodman Brown, signifying that he resembles evil and sin. He even stops midway and considers returning to Faith, meaning he considered leaving sin to rejoin the Christian life. Instead he continues on his journey, and encounters what resembles a dark gathering of sin and witchcraft. When in the middle of the woods, Goodman Brown even cries out for Faith, for she is nowhere to be seen. This is a reference to the fact that there is no hope or innocence in a life of sin and evil, which are referred to as the woods.
The tale of “Young Goodman Brown” is one full of symbolism and imagery. It is full of literal meanings and many references to Christian life and to evil and sin. Characters in the story and also settings make up these references to goodness and evil, and are represented throughout the piece. The symbolism in “Young Goodman Brown” is highlighted with Young Goodman Brown, his wife, Faith, and the woods he spends time in on his journey.