I had never really analyzed any work of literature before this class. I read books and stories for fun but never to analyze them. I now understand that in any piece of literature there is always a background or hidden agenda that the author wants the reader to get from the reading. In this paper I am going to analyze Nathaniel’s Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” to find the meaning. In “Young Goodman Brown” the protagonist experiences redemption, and through this redemption comes to an uncertain truth about himself and his life.
This uncertain truth lies within his “faith” in himself, his community, and his wife.
Young Goodman Brown is initially characterized in the story as a good Puritan who is devoted to his wife, the community, and the Christian way of life. His wife, Faith, symbolizes his faith in himself, the community, and “Faith” herself. Goodman Brown is struggling with temptation, the devil, and the ways of the Christian faith. He doesn’t feel that he can face this struggle. He has a low level of confidence in himself, as did the author, Hawthorne himself.
Hawthorne wrote this story during a time when he himself was growing up doubting the Puritan faith. This story takes place at least a generation after the Salem Witch Trials. Both Brown and Hawthorne exhibit doubt in themselves as well as their
ancestors. Goodman Brown is also struggling with his past. He must take a journey into the forest, which represents temptation and evil, but can also represent good. Salem can be described as a good place as well as an evil place.
Several events take place during Brown’s journey. On his way into the forest, Brown meets his “fellow traveler”, who is easily recognized as the devil. The devil tries to get Brown to crossover from the Christian way of life to sin by offering his serpentine staff. He makes several advances, but Brown continually refuses. The devil tells Brown that his family has had dealings with him in the past (269). This makes Brown even more aware of his faith.
He wants to remain a good man no matter what his ancestors were accused of, which was witchcraft and deviltry. Going on about his trip, Brown passes many of his mentors including Goody Cloyse and Deacon Gookin. He also passes his wife, “Faith”. When he realizes that they have all given in to the temptations of the devil, especially “Faith”, the Christian beliefs he is trying so hard to hold on to are shaken from him. He screams out, “My Faith is gone! There is no good on earth” (272).
Finally, at the end of his journey, Goodman Brown witnesses the community as a whole participating in satanic acts.
When he sees this, it destroys any and all faith he has in the community and himself. He is happy with
the community and his wife before his journey, but now he is convinced that they are all sinners. He suspects everyone that he held so close of sin.
In essence Young Goodman Brown becomes distrusting and sad. He thinks he is better than everyone else in the community is. He becomes confident that he is the only good person in the community.
He is not like his ancestors after all, so he thinks. He becomes “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man (276). Young Goodman Brown has misunderstood the meaning of “Faith” in its simplicity, expecting to live life free of doubt. He is not a good man as his name suggests. He is like his ancestors, casting doubt upon his peers, isolating himself as if he can not relate to any of his fellow townspeople. Young Goodman Brown, in his initiation into the Christian ways of life, comes to the uncertain truth that there is evil in everyone.
Upon coming to this truth, he is forever changed. He is not a “good” man, but in fact a man. A man with doubts, a man who is unsure of himself, and a man who is unsure of life, as was Nathaniel Hawthorne. Nathaniel Hawthorne was an unhappy person his entire life and he was .