Young Goodman Brown - Symbolism

Symbolically Speaking: Symbolism in Hawthorne's
"Young Goodman Brown"
Symbolism, something that figuratively represents something else, is prominent in many literary works. One piece of literature that stands out as a perfect example of symbolism is Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown." This story is completely symbolic, and provides a good example of an allegory, or a story in which concrete items or characters represent abstract ideas. Hawthorne uses both objects and people as symbols to better support the allegorical tones throughout "Young Goodman Brown."
Nathaniel Hawthorne uses different people as symbols throughout "Young Goodman Brown." The largest symbolic roles in the story are goodman Brown and his wife Faith. Both of the characters' names are symbolic and representative of their personalities. "'With Heaven above and Faith below, I will stand firm against the devil!' cried goodman Brown," is just one of many quotes that directly relates goodman Brown's personality with his name (189). Goodman Brown is truly a good man. Faith, goodman Brown's wife, also has a name that is indicative of her nature. The story directly supports this point in the phrase "Faith, as the wife was aptly named . . . " (184). Faith is persistent in trying to keep goodman Brown off the path of sin in the first part of the story: " . . . pr'y thee, put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed to-night" (184). Hawthorne does an excellent job of turning the main characters into symbols that are prominent throughout the story.
Nathaniel Hawthorne also uses different objects in the story as symbols. One of these is the staff of the devil : "But the only thing about him, that could be fixed upon as remarkable, was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake . . ." (185). This symbol shows the reader the evil that is involved with the devil character because the serpent is an archetype of the devil, or some sort of evil, which is prominent in many different cultures. Another object Hawthorne uses as a recurring symbol is the pink ribbon. The pink ribbon symbolizes the purity and innocence involved with Faith. "And Faith . . . thrust her own pretty had into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons in her cap," is a great example of how Hawthorne correlates Faith with the pink ribbons of innocence (184). The pink ribbons are mentioned later on in the story as they fall from the sky: "But something fluttered lightly down through the air, and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon." (189). This symbolizes Brown's loss of his Faith, referring to both his wife and his faith in mankind, as she hovers over toward the devil's gathering.
Another element in "Young Goodman Brown" that is related to symbolism is allegory. The story is an excellent example of an allegory because everything in it is something physical that represents an abstract. For instance, "'My Faith is gone!' cried he, after one stupefied moment. 'There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given," is an extraordinarily allegorical quote (189). Brown is, in the story, talking about Faith, his wife, but allegorically, the author is showing us that he has lost his faith in man because he gives up the world to the devil. The quote "Faith kept me back awhile," shows us yet another example of allegory (185). Again Brown is talking about his wife, but the implication is that his good heart and faith in the more spiritually beneficial is what kept him off the path of destruction for a short while longer. A third example of allegory is when Brown looks at his wife and cries, "Faith! Faith! Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!" (192). It could be interpreted literally as well as figuratively. The figurative interpretation would include Brown making one last attempt to save his inner faith and look for something blessed to cling to.
"Young Goodman Brown" is a story of the obvious. The theme of the story is that every man harbors his own secret sin within his heart, which itself is quite obvious. Hawthorne does a good job of supporting this theme with different symbols and