Symbolism In Young Goodman Brown

Symbolism In ?Young Goodman Brown” Essay, Research Paper

In “Young Goodman Brown” Nathaniel Hawthorne uses symbolism and irony to illustrate the theme of man, oblivious that sin is an inescapable part of human nature, attempting to escape from sin. The idea that mankind is perfectible, or perhaps that good Puritans are without imperfection, seems to dominate the worldview of Hawthorne’s Puritan everyman, Young Goodman Brown. His naive ideas are contrasted against the vision of profound betrayal in the forest to create a stark illustration of one possible “truth.”

At the story’s outset, Young Goodman Brown bids farewell to his young wife. The facet of Brown’s life which she represents is illustrated by her name “Faith.” and in Hawthorne’s visual description, “…thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap”. The very image of this woman’s “pretty head” being “thrust” out into the world after Goodman Brown, as the wind, an unforgiving element of profane nature, fondles her pink ribbons, sets up the dynamic between nature and the home symbolically. Nature, specifically the wind, the forest, the darkness of evening, symbolizes evil and sinfulness. The home, namely Faith and her ribbons, symbolizes the perceived safety and surety of the Puritan community as a refuge from the sin of the rest of the world.

There is certainly irony in the fact that it is the most pious church people who appear at the evil gathering in the forest. Brown recognizes the old woman who passes Young Goodman Brown and the devil on the path when he exclaims, “That old woman taught me my catechism!”. She and the deacon and minister who later pass are the very bastions of goodness on Earth to Young Goodman Brown, and hearing the two men discuss the evening’s meeting overwhelms Brown, “Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree for support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart.”. It is at this point that he cries, “With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!”, meaning that he holds fast to his belief that he and his wife alone can follow God, even in the midst of sin. But when he hears the scream of his young wife, seeming to come from the very sky, and catches a pink ribbon as it falls to the ground, he is finally undone. He cries, “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.”

The question of whether or not the evil gathering actually occurred or was a dream is not given much attention by Hawthorne, he states simply, “Be it so, if you will.? Yet the effect the vision has on Brown is profound. He becomes “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man…” afterward. Perhaps Young Goodman Brown has misunderstood the meaning of “Faith” in his simplicity, expecting to live life free of doubt. Hawthorne’s character illustrates the consequences of embracing too pious of an attitude and too simplistic of a view.


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