Young Goodman Brown


Faith or Destiny

Nathaniel Hawthorne made his mark as a major American writer in 1850, with the publication of The Scarlet Letter. His work appeals to different levels of readers because he creates complex and elaborate settings. Through conflicts within his characters, he analyzes the moral and psychological issues often consumed by their own passions. As he was growing up he could not escape the influence of Puritan religion. This influence along with the setting of his hometown in Salem, Massachusetts, are common topics in his work and in "Young Goodman Brown." Nathaniel Hawthorne considers the question of good and evil, suggesting that true evil is judging and condemning others for sin without looking at one's own sinfulness. He examines the idea that sin is part of being human and there is no escape from it. Of the many symbols he uses in this story, each has a profound meaning. They represent good and evil in the constant struggle of a young innocent man whose faith is being tested.
As the story begins, Young Goodman Brown bids farewell to his young wife "Faith, as [she] was aptly named" (211). When she " ?thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap" we associate the purity of "Faith" and the "pink ribbons" as a sign of the innocence and goodness of the town he is leaving behind (211). As he continues "on his present evil purpose" he sets off at sunset to enter the forest (212). A place "darkened by all the gloomiest trees," unknown territory, and a place where "there may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," with this we know the forest represents evil and sinfulness (212). His decision to enter the forest and leave his "Faith" behind is the first decision, of many, between good and evil that he must make.
After entering the forest he meets a traveler whom he later finds out is the devil. He is carrying a staff representing evil, "which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself, like a living serpent" (213). When the traveler offers his staff to Young Goodman Brown he resists by replying, "Having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose to return whence I came. I have scruples, touching the matter thou wot'st of" (213). Still feeling strong in resisting temptation, Young Goodman Brown refuses to "be the first of the name of Brown, that ever took this path, and kept-" (213).
At this time he feels he can resist any temptation by keeping his faith. He refuses to believe the devil when he reveals to him that he has been "?well acquainted with [his] family?[they] were good friends?" (213). In disbelief Young Goodman Brown is devastated, but knows that he still has his Faith. "It would break her dear little heart; and I'd rather break my own!' (214). Trying desperately he holds on to his Christian belief, that he is going to Heaven, even when he recognizes the old woman who passes and says "That old woman taught me catechism!" (215). Soon after, he also hears Deacon Gookin and the minister discussing the evening's event. Knowing that these people, in his mind, were the forefront of goodness on Earth, he is shattered as, " 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 " (216). He again tries to resist temptation and cries out, "With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" (216). But when he hears many voices and among them is Faith, in desperation he yells out to her. As he awaits a response, a pink ribbon "fluttered lightly down through the air" (217). As he catches it 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" (217). When he reaches his final destination he has lost all faith in mankind and everything he believes in.
The question, " Had Young Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?" is irrelevant