The story of "Young Goodman Brown" is one of many intertwining themes, such as good vs. evil, morality vs. temptation, and appearance vs. reality. The use of characters as symbols and symbols such as the serpent-like staff and Faith’s pink ribbon help develop these themes, while maintaining the mood of the story. Author Nathaniel Hawthorne uses a combination of imagery and style to create a dark tone, which is suitable for a story of the triumph of evil over good. This particular analysis of the story will focus on the literary tools the author uses to further the primary theme of good vs. evil and relate this theme to the other themes in the story.
The theme of good vs. evil can be related to the characters that provide the biggest influence on the protagonist, as well as a correlating Christianity vs. Satanism theme. When Goodman Brown gets to his initial destination he remarks that he was late because "Faith kept [him] back a while […]", referring literally to his wife. Nevertheless, the deeper meaning suggests that his faith in himself and his faith in doing good is what made it hard for him to go on with this evil endeavor. Faith’s nightmares foreshadow the events that will soon thereafter transpire. The beloved wife cries “A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afeard of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year”, hinting to the reader that tonight is going to be an exceptional night. The third character introduced in this story is Goodman Brown’s snake-like staff-bearing fellow traveller. This character can be perceived as the total opposite of Goodman’s wife, with the two characters representing the opposite ends of the moral spectrum. The use of a black snake in this situation can be paralleled to the story of Eve, the snake, and the forbidden fruit. The author mentions that the fellow traveller seemed like he knew the world. It is said that the forbidden fruit in the biblical story represents knowledge, which breeds evil through curiosity. While he acts as a part of Goodman’s conscience, the old fellow traveller also furthers the story line. The intention here is to use the characters in this story as a microcosm of the inner battle human kind faces and the author executes this very well.
While good vs. evil is the major theme in this story, it is a broad one that relies on other themes in order to come to fruition. For instance, Hawthorne paints a picture with ominous imagery such as gloomy trees and dark roads, starting out narrow and growing wilder and more dreadful. The sentence “The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil” is a perfect metaphor for the journey, which is life, of the human being and how each persons path sometimes becomes unclear and foggy in the moral sense. This furthers the theme of appearance vs. reality, alongside the use of Christian characters like the minister and the Deacon. The theme of morality vs. temptation reveals itself when Goodman Brown uses reason to convince himself to turn around, the man with the serpent-staff convinces him that it is alright since he has helped many people before as is evident by words such as “I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war.” This brings up a deeply philosophical matter; if the majority does it, is it moral? According to some, to judge the morality of an act, one must apply it to the universal. This theme is coupled by the theme of loss of innocence. Goodman’s Faith wears a pink ribbon in the beginning of the story. The pink ribbon symbolizes innocence and purity. In the midst of his journey, he learns of events that dirty the pure-image of many of the influencing people in his life. When this purity is lost, he cries out that he has lost his faith. This can be seen in Goodman near the end of the story:
Old Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship, and the holy words of his prayer were heard through the open window. "What God doth the wizard pray to?" quoth Goodman Brown. Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian, stood in the early sunshine at her own lattice, catechizing a little girl who had brought her a pint of morning’s milk. Goodman Brown snatched away the child as from the grasp of the fiend himself.
This leads the protagonist to question everything he has been taught up until now and eventually lose his innocent beliefs that morality always triumphs temptation.
In conclusion, Young Goodman Brown depicts a broad story of good vs. evil, which raises many philosophical questions in regards to faith, religion, morality, and temptation. The interdependence of these themes is represented accurately in the story, as it is a complex issue in real life. Nathaniel Hawthorne achieves a realistic conclusion of the story of a man who loses in a battle against evil, using surrealist symbolism and imagery, saying it with a perfectly graceful lack of grace. Hawthorne expresses some strong opinions in his literature about religion, but he does so in a way that can hardly be seen as offensive, even to those who preach.
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