Analysis and Plot Summary of "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Analysis and Plot Summary of "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Post by SELMI OUSSEMA on Sun May 09, 2010 2:48 am

Analysis and Plot Summary of "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The beginning of the story by Nathaniel Hawthorne introduces us to Young Goodman Brown as he says goodbye to his wife of three months. He tells her that he must go on this journey (although we still do not know where he is going or what he’s doing) and that he will be back by the morning. It is clear that he knows he is up to something and he feels a tinge of guilt because his wife, a woman named Faith who wears a pink ribbon in her hair (both of these are important details and comprise important quotes from "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne for almost anything you might write on this story) begs him not to go.

Goodman Brown finally parts with faith (the name Faith is symbolic for obvious reasons here) and sets out into the forest where he meets a man. Although he was expecting to find this man, who is described as looking much like Goodman Brown except older, he is frightened when he sees his figure looming in the dark forest ahead of him. The story by Nathaniel Hawthorne is still shrouded in mystery as the two men move through forest together, talking about Goodman’s family. Goodman finds it hard to believe this man knew his father or grandfather because he is clearly not a good character. The mysterious stranger also talks on about how is close to Christians and all good people, even though by this point we’re getting the feeling that the man is evil.

As the two approach their destination, Goodman wants to turn back because of his wife (or in other words, his “Faith) but the two keep moving until they come across an old woman named Goody Cloyse. Goodman recognizes her as a teacher and a spiritual guide but begins to realize she is part of the evil that surrounds him. The same is true with Deacon Gookin and the Minister who come riding along and Goodman realizes that these men are both in league with evil. As he moves out of the darkness, a pink ribbon blows down next to him and he sees that Faith is part of the “communion” that is taking place in the woods.
As the story by Nathaniel Hawthorne progresses, in a clearing, there is a large fire and what appears to be a Satanic or demonic ritual taking place and Goodman Brown thinks he sees his dead father. The leader of the evil (perhaps the Devil himself) discusses how everyone is evil and as Goodman Brown listens, he sees that the woman on the altar next to his deceased father is actually Faith. He yells at he to resist the evil, but as he does so the entire scene disappears and he is left alone, wondering what happened. The narrator of "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne asks the reader if it really happened or if it was simply a dream and concludes the story with the details of the rest of Goodman’s life. We are told that the day after this event, Goodman Brow walks back to Salem and runs across many of the “godly” people he met during his experience/dream. He is disturbed and shuns all of them, including his wife, whom he once treasured. The rest of his life is spent in misery as he thinks everyone is part of a secret evil and sin (another recurring theme in the works of Hawthore) and when he dies, few are saddened.
In terms of offering an analysis of “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, while there is no definitive answer to the question of whether or not this “really” happened to Goodman Brown, one must assume that this was simply a dream that came from Goodman’s subconscious. He lives in Salem, a location where the fervent witch trials occurred and one must wonder if he is feeling that piousness and witchcraft surround him in equal parts. If these are imaginings from Goodman, we can glean a few details about his character, such as the fact that he is suspicious to begin with as well as curious about others in the community. It also might reveal that he feels everyone is capable of some evil, even if they appear to be the most pious in the community. If one is considering a character analysis of Goodman Brown, it should be noted that in many ways Goodman Brown is a rather flat character. The reader of this story by Nathaniel Hawthorne is not told much about his background (although we do learn a few things about his family history via the old man) and the narrator focuses more on telling the reader what happened to him as opposed to what he was thinking. He can be described as an “everyman” because he, like many people” is vulnerable to suspicion and self-doubt. He does not posses any typically heroic traits and instead simply reacts to the situation.

There are many instances of symbolism in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne that function in differing ways. For instance, the symbols of sunset and night, which reflect the two opposing forces of good and evil in the text. This is especially apparent when we consider that the light of late day allows him to see Faith with love whereas when he sees her in darkness, he is suspicious and afraid. The walking stick is another symbol in this story by Nathaniel Hawthorne that demonstrates how nothing is as it seems in the text. At one moment it is a withered and twisted stick while at another it changes into a slithering serpent. It is thus symbolically speaking something that has the potential to harm or to help, much like the religious figures Goodman Brown encounters in the dark. It is also worth noting that the serpent that the stick becomes is representative of the devil and evil. One of the most obvious symbols in "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne is the concept of Goodman being both literally and metaphorically married to Faith. His faith is what he most treasures and after his experience it is what he is most afraid of losing. It is also worth mentioning that pink ribbon is symbolic of the purity of faith. The fact it floats away on a breeze represents shattered innocence and a loss of purity, a theme that is present in many works by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
In many ways, much of this tale is allegorical in nature, partly because of the mutability of all of the symbols. If this were an allegory it could be summarized by stating that this is one man’s realization that he is surrounded by opposing forces without ever knowing which of them are good or which are evil. Faith (in both senses of the word) is the light in the story, the only way one can be saved, yet by walking into the forest (which is a symbol for that which is dark and mysterious) with a man who literally clings to the serpent (an allegorical image for the Devil or evil incarnate) Goodman is leaving behind his Faith and asking for the truth about who (or what) is good or evil.

SELMI OUSSEMA

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