Essay, Research Paper
The Dangers of the Norm and Beliefs in Young Goodman Brown
One of the most dangerous things that a person can do to themselves is become totally set in their ways. A person become so set in their way of life that if something comes along and alters it in the slightest little way it can disturb them psychologically. A great example of this is in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Young Goodman Brown.” In the story, the character Goodman Brown is extremely set is his belief structure. He believes deep down that all people are God-fearing Christians and they lead completely moral lives. Then suddenly, his world is thrown into upheaval when what could’ve been a dream, but was in fact reality, interfered with his beliefs and he could no longer trust his fellow man. Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown” deals with the dangers of living in the norm by showing the strictness of the Puritan religion, temptation of man, and loss of faith.
To quote the movie Dogma, It s good to have beliefs, but I just think it s better to have ideas. I mean, you can change an idea. Changing a belief is a little trickier. People die for them. People kill for them. Now, it is a good thing to have beliefs, but in selecting a belief structure one should be careful. What one person believes might conflict with what another believes and it could cause a rift. That is one of Brown s downfalls. He has himself so wrapped up in his way of life and what he believes that it clouds his mind from the reality that his fellow townspeople do not walk the same line that he does.
On thing that is present in Hawthorne s writing is his disgust for the Puritan
religion. Their life of persecution and non-diversity is slightly chaotic. He presents Brown
with an anal retentiveness to Puritanism, which he follows to a T. But, he is susceptible to temptation like all humans. Which is why he goes on his midnight journey with the mysterious journey.
During the day, Mr. Brown is a militant Puritan. He is strong faithed and believes in the goodness of society. But at night he is led into a temptation that forever changes his life. When he comes upon the midnight ritual he is shocked and appalled. The entire experience makes him bitter and forever untrusting of his fellow Samaritans.
Throughout the short story Brown 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. 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!
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 When questioned as to why he has dallied in meeting this figure, Young Goodman Brown replies Faith kept me back awhile. 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. 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. . To this Young Goodman Brown replies it is “too far,” and that “his father never went on such an errand. 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. 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. 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.” 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. Seeing them, he questions “But where is Faith?” 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.” 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. 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.” 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?” It does not matter, for Young Goodman Brown becomes “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man.” He shrinks from the bosom of Faith, and he dies a “hoary corpse” 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.
Brown is faced with the inner turmoil of his faith because what he once used a s crutches have now been knocked out from under him. He now has a new outlook on man, God, and religion. Brown s faith has changed from his original beliefs in God and that his faith would lead him to heaven to one that showed him the depths of Hell.
Young Goodman Brown is an excellent example of a strong faith that has been crippled. Everyone can relate to this story because Brown has dealt with the same demons that all men and women face – just on a different level. His faith is gone and his life has changed forever. He has faced a sad, cold reality. He has learned finally that while beliefs are a good thing, it s not good to base your life around them.