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Analysis of Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

1491 words (6 pages) Essay in Literature

08/02/20 Literature Reference this

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown” is one of certainty and uncertainty. From the beginning to the end, Hawthorne uses the adventures of Goodman Brown to expose Biblical principles to his audience. The symbolism Hawthorne uses is relatable to that of the revelation that comes from the Bible and is seen throughout the story as a testament of faith. Not only does Hawthorne reveal to his readers the importance of faith, but he also unfolds the relevance of knowing what is true before entering into the unknown. 

 Goodman Brown lives in a Salem Village, which implies that he is of the Puritan descent. Puritans strongly believe in living by the Bible and setting good examples to others who are not of the Puritan faith, therefore, Goodman’s faith is a crucial part of his life. The importance of faith to Goodman is shown by Hawthorne in the use of the name Faith for his wife, to ideally show that Goodman is married to his faith. Growing up Puritan in a Christian community Goodman never experiences anything beyond his beliefs and is curious as to whether his faith is as strong as he thinks, which leads him to embark on a trip into the forest.

 While on course into the forest, a place of darkness and evil, Goodman feels a sense of guilt for leaving his Faith, but this does not stop him. “With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose” (Hawthorne).  Goodman is determined to prove himself and his faith, but entering into the unknown causes fear to arise and wonder of what may be lurking in the darkness. “There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,” said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow” (Hawthorne).  Little does he know that his fears are soon to become his reality. Just as Satan comes as a thief in the night, he also comes in many forms. No sooner than Goodman had feared the idea of the devil lurking there he appeared, but only as a simple looking man that appeared to know the world and to be a friend to all.  The only clue the led Goodman to believe that this was no ordinary man was his staff that not only looked like a snake, but seemed to being slithering as one as well.  At this point, after being offered the staff by the man, he is ready to turn back.

 ”Too far! too far!” exclaimed the Goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept” (Hawthorne). 

Goodman being afraid uses his family to clarify his faith, but he man, Satan, sees the opportunity to begin to wrench the truth and distort Goodman’s reality of the people he knows as being good Christian people. One by one the man lists their sins beginning with those of Goodman’s family, then he then goes on to speak of the sins of the minister, the deacon, and Goody Cloyse, his Sunday school teacher that taught him Christian principles. Lie after lie the enemy is changing Goodman’s perception of everyone that has had a positive impact on his life, but Goodman continues to remain strong in his faith. “With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” cried Goodman Brown” (Hawthorne).

At that very moment, in faith, Goodman begins to pray as a dark cloud settles above his head and he hears the voices of the townspeople and the cries of his wife Faith.  Goodman cries out to his wife Faith, but the lack of response and the falling ribbon that he catches in his hand causes Goodman to lose faith and move deeper into the forest where he soon sees his wife Faith and hell itself with a Satanic ritual taking place. Just as anyone who is in the pits of hell would cry out to Jesus in a desperate attempt to escape the agony, Goodman does the same.  And just as Jesus hears the cries of sinners, He hears Goodman’s cries of faith as well.  “Hardly had he spoken when he found himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind which died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against the rock, and felt it chill and damp; while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew” (Hawthorne).

The next morning as Goodman returns from the unknown, he enters the unknown as he goes into the streets of the town and sees everyone he knows, but he now questions their faith rather than his own. Although Goodman resists the devil and stands his ground in the face of temptation, but does not realize the true trick of the enemy. In a ruse to draw Goodman into a life of sin, Satan, being the author of confusion and the father of all lies, twists Goodman’s perception of the people that he sees as being pure and holy. These lies instill a seed of doubt about everyone in the town causing him to mistrust other Christians and to turn away from God. Although the test may seem to be what took place in the forest, the true test is what takes place thereafter. That night in the forest the enemy robs Goodman of every person that has ministered to him, therefore, devouring his relationship with God because he is not strong enough in his own faith to persevere.The Bible tells us that we have to “Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (New King James Study Bible). Regardless of the sin of others, we cannot allow judgment to interfere with our own faith. Hawthorne’s account of Goodman is that

 “Often, waking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away. And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne).

Goodman losing his faith and living in judgement turns him bitter and causes him to lose what really matters most, love. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says “Love keeps no record of wrong” (New King James Study Bible), and 1 John 4:20 says “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (New King James Study Bible). The last of these two scriptures deal with the obedience to faith. The true trick of the enemy is to rob us of love because it’s the lack of love for ourselves and others that leads to sin, because God is love, therefore, if you don’t have love you don’t have God. In the “Young Goodman Brown” Satan uses lies, as he always does, to plant a seed doubt in the mind of Goodman Brown. As Goodman continues to nurture the seed of doubt hatred roots in his heart and destroys him. As it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move a mountain it also only takes a small seed of doubt to destroy faith, it’s a matter of which seed you choose to nurture. Goodman’s true test was to love others regardless of their sin, but he chose to believe the evil he saw and heard in the forest rather than to love and forgive, therefore, it was the sin of unforgiveness that led to the demise of Goodman Brown upon returning from his journey into the unknown.

Works Cited

  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 1835.
  • Merriamm-Webster.com. https://www.merriamwebster.com . Accessed 8 April 2019.
  • Thesaurus.com. https://www.thesaurus.com/ Accessed 8 April 2019.
  • The Holy Bible, New King James Study Bible. Copyright © 2013, Published by Holman Bible Publishers
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