The short story Young Goodman Brown portrays a man’s wild journey to leave his faith, home, and security behind to take a chance with the devil in to an adventure into a dark forest. Young Goodman Brown, the main character goes off into the woods and undergoes a life-transforming experience. In this story the author Nathaniel Hawthorne seems to be infatuated with the themes of sin and guilt. William Hawthorne, one of Hawthorne’s ancestors, was in fact a judge in the Salem witch trials, which is probably where the author’s interest in the twin themes of sin and guilt come from. Hawthorne widely employs the use of symbolism through the story, which avoids the logical mind to tap in to its more dream like processes. We can deduce the use of symbolism by exploring three aspects of the story; the setting, the characters, and the plot.
The setting where the story takes place plays a very important role in the story thus it is one of the main uses of symbolism. Goodman Brown leaves the village in the middle of the night to head out into the forest. The fact that he meets the devil in a dark forest portrays the place he is going as evil. The story takes place in the forest where Goodman Brown sees all kinds of evil and people worshiping the devil.
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One of the character names in the story also represents symbolism. Goodman’s wife’s name was Faith. She represents good. Throughout the story Goodman is struggling with his faith and trying to resist evil. At the beginning of the story Goodman leaves “Faith” and travel out into the forest to follow evil. When he met up with his evil fellow traveler he says, “Faith kept me back awhile”. This seems to have a double meaning. His wife Faith slowed him down, but also his own personal faith made it a struggle for him to go. He was battling with good and evil. Goodman Brown decides to follow evil and justifies it by saying that this was the last night, and after that he would follow Faith to heaven.
Symbolism is also used in the characters that Goodman sees along the dark path in the forest. Goodman sees all of the people that are the religious leaders in his village. The women that had taught Goodman since he was a child about God. To Goodman this woman symbolizes a Christian person. Goodman also sees the deacon from the village and other important leaders of the church. All these leaders of the church symbolize Goodman Brown’s faith. When Goodman sees that they are evil he loses his faith and turns to evil.
In the plot of the story there are many uses of symbolism. Two examples of this are the pink ribbons in Faith’s hair and the staff that the fellow traveler carries. Faith wear’s pink ribbons in her hair which symbolizes goodness. When Goodman heard Faith in the forest he finds her pink ribbons. They had fallen off, just like her goodness had left her when she followed evil. Goodman cries, “my Faith is gone”. This has two meanings. He has lost his wife Faith to evil and he has also lost his own faith to evil.
The staff is also used all throughout the story to symbolize evil. The first staff that the traveler has looks like a black snake. He offers the staff to Goodman so that he won’t feel weary as if he was offering the devil to encourage him to follow evil. The traveler gives Goody Cloyse the staff and gets another one from the tree. As soon as he touched it, it began to wither. When Goodman decides to follow evil when he hears Faith in the woods he grabs the staff and almost begins running.
In this story there are many examples of symbolism. The setting, the characters, and the plot are important to the story and help to develop the theme of the story. The author uses this symbolism to give the reader a better understanding of the events in the story and to draw parallels.
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