Young Goodman Brown - Symbolism


Symbolism in Young Goodman Brown
Hawthorne depicts a 17th century Puritan attempting to reach justification as Brown?s faith required. Upon completing his journey, however, Brown could not confront the terrors of evil in his heart and chose to reject all of society. Puritan justification was a topic Hawthorne was aware of as a journey to hell necessary for a moral man. Having referred to the heart of man as hell, Puritans founds themselves in the midst of Satan and his multitude of devils as he established his kingdom in man?s heart. This was a dreadful revelation that caused Brown to grow bitter and distrustful. Puritan communities, secured by their orthodox faith, dealt with the ungodly wilderness around them. Set in Salem during the early witchcraft day of then, Young Goodman Brown?s experience in the dark, evil forest correlated and would have been recognized by Puritans as a symbol of mistrust of their own corrupt hearts and faculties. Just as man could not trust the shadows and figures he saw hidden in the forest, he could not trust his own desires. Those desires had to be tested through his journey into the forest. Those evil spirits constantly tortured the Puritan, constantly reminding him of his sin and the battle in his own heart. Hawthorne used the presence of these demon in "Young Goodman Brown" by demonstrating, through Brown, the Puritan Journey towards Justification. Going through the forest towards Justification was marked by the disappearance of the self. In place of the self, was the awareness of helplessness and the illusions of sin. This awareness would then assist the moral man to no longer depend upon material things or people, but to put his faith solely upon God. Hawthorne?s knowledge of the historical background of Puritanism combined with the personal experience of his early life and the history of his own family merge into the statement that "Young Goodman Brown" makes. A system in which individuals cannot trust themselves, their neighbors, their instructors or even their ministers can not create and atmosphere where faith exists.
Hawthorne?s tale places the newly wed Puritan Brown upon the road to what may or may not be a true conversion experience. The conversion experience, a sudden realization brought about by divine intervention, a vision, or perhaps a dream, easily translates into the dream of Hawthorne?s work and allows the author to use Puritan doctrine and the history of Salem to argue the merits and consequences of such a belief.
At the story?s outset, Young Goodman Brown bids farewell to his young wife. His pretty young wife Faith is identified by the pink ribbons in her hair. It is ironic that Brown associates her with something as insignificant as a ribbon. Faith tries to hold Brown back from his journey, but he insists on going. Why he must go is not stated. Brown is leaving his house at sunset for a journey that will take him into the woods. Night time and the woods are believed to be the haunting grounds of witches. Nature, specifically the wind, the forest, the darkness of evening, symbolizes evil and sinfulness. For a man to be so pure of heart, he obviously had some questions about himself in order to risk losing his Faith and reputation upon a journey into the woods. While Brown is in the forest he sees many of the upstanding members of his community which confuses him as to what is right and what is wrong. There is certainly irony in the fact that it is the most pious church people who appear at the evil gathering in the forest. The old woman who passes Young Goodman Brown and the devil on the path is recognized by Brown when he exclaims "That old woman taught me my catechism!" Probably wondering what she was doing in the woods at night, not thinking that she would be involved with such a meeting. Characters such as Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, and the Minister are leaders of the town of Salem. They are believed to be the most pious people of their community and are revered by all of their righteous in life. The devil, whom Goodman Brown meets while in the woods, resembles Brown, and he carries a rod which resembles a live serpent. The rod represents evil and his appearance stands for the reflection of