- April 19, 2020
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Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne depicts the storyof a man whose views and beliefs are challenged through varioustrials. The quality of Goodman Brown’s faith was severely testedthrough temptation. An evil man in the forest tried to convince himto discard his principles and succumb to wrongdoing. Consequently,Goodman lost his faith in humanity upon discovering his wife’shypocrisy. He concluded that evil abounded everywhere and thateveryone was inherently flawed. Rather than modify the nature of hisinterpersonal relations, Goodman chose to cultivate despondency.Hawthorne uses people and objects as symbols to show the importanceof gaining the right perspective while dealing with imperfection inothers.
The pink ribbons are used as a symbol to represent purity andhappiness. In the beginning of the story, Hawthorne emphasizesFaith’s innocence and youthfulness. Robinson states that the pinkribbons symbolize the passion in Goodman’s marriage (223). Faithhad unsuccessfully tried to convince her husband to stay home ratherthan wander off into the forest. She let “the wind play with thepink ribbons” while she called to Goodman. When her husband left,Faith peeped “after him with a melancholy air, in spite of her pinkribbons” (Hawthorne 403). In the forest, Goodman watched as thepink ribbon “fluttered lightly down through the air and caught onthe branch of a tree.” Consequently, he was convinced that his wifehad fallen prey to the devil’s overtures. Upon his return to Salem,Goodman was perplexed to see that Faith still wore the pink ribbons.Levin notes that Goodman was unsure whether his wife was righteous orevil (351). In this regard, he thought that Faith had never left thetown. In fact, he wondered whether he had “dreamed a wild dream ofa witch-meeting” (Hawthorne 411). On the other hand, Goodmanthought that Faith had replaced the pink ribbons to feign innocence.Hence, he “looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed onwithout a greeting.” Therefore, the pink ribbons manifest thedifference between reality and perceived appearance.
The devil’s “snake-like staff” represents the man’s sinfuland supernatural tendencies. Goodman noted that the man’s staff“bore the likeness of a great black snake” and could “be seento twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent” (Hawthorne 405).Hawthorne also alludes to the Biblical narrative of Adam and Eve, whowere tempted to eat the forbidden fruit by a cautious serpent. Hence,the staff is used a symbol of cunning and deceptive conduct. The evilman was intent on subverting the will of Goodman and Faith. Paulitsnotes that the Devil used his qualities as a tempter to persuadeBrown to make unwise decisions (579). In particular, the staff showedthat the devil’s desire to destroy Goodman’s purity andinnocence. Nonetheless, the latter refused to hold the “serpentinestaff” (Hawthorne 405). In this manner, Goodman portrayed hisdetermination to avoid succumbing to evil. Therefore, theserpent-like staff symbolizes the potency of using treachery to causeevil.
The names in the story are symbolic of various ideals. For example,the name “Goodman” represents the customary address for anordinary man. Therefore, Goodman depicts a typical person in thePuritan culture. Although all men had traces of goodness, the loss ofinnocence was almost inevitable. Jamil states that Goodman manifestedthe internal struggle for supremacy experienced by every human (144).“Goody” is also a shortened form of “good wife.” Faith’sname shows the character’s high level of devotion and purity.Goodman’s marriage to Faith displays his optimistic attitudetowards people. In the forest, Goodman stated that “Faith kept meback awhile” (Hawthorne 405). Hawthorne uses Faith’s name torepresent her husband’s belief in goodness. Goodman wasapprehensive towards adopting the evil attitudes of his companion.His decision to glance back at Faith also shows his reservations ofpursuing a wrong course. Ultimately, he surrenders and embarks on anevil path towards the forest.
The settings in the story symbolize the differences between evil andrighteousness. Jamil notes that the village was orderly while theforest would be confusing (143). Notably, Goodman walked “on adreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees if the forest.”The forest path was narrow and “all as lonely as could be”(Hawthorne 404). The darkness of the terrain showed the presence ofevil in the forest. The trees seemed to close “immediately behind”the traveler. This depicts the fact that Goodman would find itdifficult to return to his state of innocence. The traveler also felt“peculiarity in such a solitude” ((Hawthorne 404). Contrariwise,Salem was an upbeat town with plenty of residents. Goodman also had aloving wife living within the village. The ideal conditions prevalentin the area were contrasted with the evil in the forest. In fact,Goodman resisted the impulse to stay in Salem when he “looked back”and saw his wife staring at him. In the forest, Goodman thought hehad “lost Faith” while in the village, he was still married toher. The long and windy nature of the trail also shows the distancewhich Goodman’s conscience must travel before he loses hisinnocence and embraces full evil. Therefore, the settings of Salemand the forest show the differences between righteousness and evil.
The evil assembly is also used as a symbol to show the extent ofdepravity in the society. Levin states that the people at thewitch-meeting comprised a community of evil (351). The open space was“hemmed in by the dark wall of the forest” and “surrounded byfour blazing pines.” Hawthorne used the trees to show thecoexistence between evil and wild nature. Furthermore, the evilassembly used a sacramental basin that seemed to contain blood. An“unhallowed altar” also contributed to the eerie atmosphere(Hawthorne 408). Hawthorne used the people and surroundings duringthe ceremony to show a dark rendering of Christian rituals.Therefore, the evil assembly represents the prevalence of evil at theexpense of righteousness.
The trees in the forest symbolize darkness and solitude. Hurleystates that the forest was a symbol of Goodman’s withdrawn andaloof nature (413). Goodman was comfortable and fulfilled while inSalem. He also had a young wife that cared deeply for him. Thevillage of Salem represented the boundaries of right and wrongconduct. Connolly notes that Goodman had made a prior arrangement tomeet with the Devil (372). Hence, wandering off into the forest isportrayed as a conscious decision to ignore the leanings of hisconscience. Goodman imagined that “there may be a devilish Indianbehind every tree.” He also acknowledged that “the traveler knowsnot who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thickboughs overhead” In this manner, the trees symbolized Goodman’ssuspicions and fears regarding his life. Several figures from hislife also appear in the forest. Hurley states that Goodman’sexperiences betrayed his distrust and suspicion (411). Walking pastthe trees depicts a journey through Goodman’s troubledsubconscious. Additionally, it shows the voluntary involvement in sinand darkness. The woods may also symbolize the devil’s abode sincethe traveler knew he was embarking on an “evil purpose”(Hawthorne 403). Goodman also thought that “the devil himselfshould be at my very elbow.” Therefore, an individual could onlylearn about his deep-seated fears and concerns when he went beyondhis comfort zone.
The mysterious man in the forest was a symbol of temptation and evil.Notably, “he arose at Goodman’s approach and walked onward sideby side with him.” The man was dressed “in grave and decentattire” and seemed “about fifty years old” (Hawthorne 405).Goodman could discern that his companion had “considerableresemblance to him.” This fact is used to symbolize the evil man’sdesire to erode the man’s purity and innocence through deception.Paulits notes that the Devil wanted to lead Goodman to utter evilusing temptation (578). Although the latter was reluctant to movefurther into the forest, the traveler increased the intensity of histemptations.
Besides, different colors were used as symbols of various factors.For example, pink was used to manifest purity and happiness. Faithadorned the pink ribbons as a symbol of her goodness and innocence.Connolly states that the pink ribbons showed signs of joy and youth(374). Hence, latter references of the ribbons show a change inattitude. Jamil notes that brown was obtained by mixing black and red(144). Furthermore, the sacramental basin in the forest was filledwith a red liquid. This color was used to symbolize the blood thatwas shed after humans succumbed to the evil man’s tactics. In thismanner, anyone that embraced wicked conduct would have symbolicallylost their right to live. Cherry notes that the cloud in the skyshows Goodman’s inability to resist evil (347). Moreover, the blackstaff is used as a symbol for evil and death while blue skiesrepresent hope. Goodman also turned pale while in the church, whichshows his state of utter despair.
Indeed, the author uses symbolic characters and items to show theimportance of making allowance for human flaws. It was impossible foranyone to maintain a righteous course at all times. Goodmanrepresents a typical person driven by a desire to act rationally.However, the passage of time creates plenty of temptations.Inevitably, every person would succumb to evil regardless of theirefforts and desires. In the beginning of the story, the pink ribbonsmanifest purity and innocence. However, their meaning changed whenGoodman saw them in the forest. Subsequently, the pink ribbons showedhis wife’s hypocrisy. Although she portrayed an image ofrighteousness, she had secretly succumbed to the Devil’s overtures.Notably, her wickedness caused Goodman to become disillusioned. Faithwas also used a symbol of purity and goodness. In this regard,Goodman chose to leave his wife behind and wander into the forest. Inthis manner, the civilization of Salem is juxtaposed with thedepravity in the woods. The forest represents wickedness anduncertainty. Hence, Goodman’s foray into the woods shows hisdecision to engage in sinfulness. The first traveler is used a symbolof evil and temptation since he convinces Goodman to walk deeper intothe forest. Similarly, the serpentine staff represents treachery andwickedness. In this regard, Goodman’s decision to avoid the staffshows his determination to avoid evil.
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Jamil, S. Selina. "Carnivalesque Freedom in Hawthorne`s YoungGoodman Brown." The Explicator 65.3 (2007): 143-145.
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