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The conflicts between the everyday battles and forces of good and evil are portrayed the story, “Young Goodman Brown”. Nathaniel Hawthorne uses many symbolic elements, from the characters names in the story and throughout until it’s delusional ending. They show us that sin is a part of human nature and that no man is perfect beyond any means.
The presence of evil appears as Brown begins on his journey. “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind it.” Forests are used to symbolize wickedness, evil and danger. The road that is to be travelled is very dark and small, and it is enveloping him as it closes swiftly behind him, displaying the abandonment of his faith. “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!” This symbolizes that he is, in fact, walking along side the devil on this dreary road into the forest. Moments later a companion appears, Young tells him, ‘Faith kept me back awhile”, which explains that he had been faithful to his beliefs for some time, and then decided to cross over to the evil world. This said; it could be that this companion is in fact the devil himself, when his staff is noticed, “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.” The staff being referred to as a serpent, can be compared to the serpent in the story of Adam and Eve. This is an excellent reference to how certain things in life can be deceitful, and the knowing of what is right and wrong.
There comes a point in the story where Goodman Brown states, “Is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith, and go after her?” This is when he begins to question his journey on the road between good and evil. It is then suggested by his companion, “Sit here and rest yourself awhile; and when you feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along.” The devil is now leaving behind the sole key and the permission for Brown to join him in the world of evil and corruption, and then he walks away. This plays out in life as it is known today.
As Brown’s journey into the forest continues, he hears voices and decides to hide. “It vexed him the more, because he could have sworn, were such a thing possible, that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along quietly, as they were wont to do, when bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council”. This is a symbolization of betrayal. With the Minister and Deacon out in the forest in the middle of the night, and the previous symbols involving the devil, Goodman Brown might have a feeling of being betrayed by his faith and feel alone. “While he still gazed upward, into the deep arch of the firmament, and had lifted his hands to pray, a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried across the zenith, and hid the brightening stars”. The thought of being abandoned overcomes him and he begins to pray to the heavens but is surrounded by the forest and its evils. The cloud symbolizes the dangers of allowing your surroundings, family and friends to become a blind fold and shield one’s eyes from their beliefs.
Eventually young Goodman Brown reaches the circle of the wicked, their voices joined in song. This dreadful anthem was joining the sounds of the nature and wilderness around him. Fire is represented here, which could also symbolize the anger and the passion for the fight of good and evil. The devil now begins his sermon, “Depending on one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped, that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived! Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again my children, to the communion of your race!” Even from the beginning of the story, it is foreshadowed that this whole story is in fact a dream. Hawthorne states in the beginning “A lone woman is troubled with such dreams”, gives an indication that this is a dream. Also, the reference to evil being a nature of mankind and of it being your only happiness is extremely wicked and satanic.
The ending of the story does in the end rest the mind that this was in fact a dream. “A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man, did be become, from the night of that fearful dream”. It appears that the realization of disbelief in his faith, Brown woke up and lived the rest of his life as a bitter and untrusting man. And this states that the devil got the best of him.
Nathaniel Hawthorne does an excellent job utilizing symbolism in this story to depict a real life battle that many of the human race struggle with everyday. The dark forest that Brown traveled, was not just a setting in the story, but an illustration of the journey though everyday life. And Young Goodman Brown shows us that it is easier to get side tracked on the right paths and travel on the wrong side.
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