Young Goodman Brown
The first paperback edition to include full annotations of these twenty Hawthorne tales written between the 1830s and 50s, this volume contains the classic pieces "Young Goodman Brown," "The Maypole of Merry Mount," "The Birthmark," "The Celestial Railroad," and "Earth's Holocaust," as well as tales, such as "My Kinsman, Major Milieu," which represent Hawthorne's interest in the spiritual history of New England. The story begins late one evening in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, with young Goodman Brown leaving his home and Faith, his wife of three months, to meet with a mysterious figure deep in the forest. As they meet and proceed further into the dark forest, and it is broadly hinted that Goodman Brown's traveling companion is, in fact, the Devil, and that the purpose of their journey is to join in an unspecified but obviously unholy ritual. Goodman Brown is wavering and expresses reluctance, yet they continue on. As they journey Brown discovers others also proceeding to the meeting, many of them his townsfolk whom he had considered good Christians including his minister and deacon and the woman who taught him his catechism. He is astonished and disheartened and determines, once again, to turn back. But now he hears his wife’s voice and realizes that she is one of those to be initiated at the meeting. Recognizing that he has lost his Faith (in both senses), he now resolves to carry out his original intention and enthusiastically joins the procession.
At the ceremony, carried out at a flame-lit, crude rocky altar in a clearing deep in the forest, the new converts are called to come forth. He and Faith approach the altar and, as they are about to be anointed in blood to seal their alliance with wickedness, he cries out to Faith to look to heaven and resist. In the next instant he finds himself standing alone in the forest, next to the cold, wet rock.
The narrator suggests that the experience might have been a dream, but Goodman Brown is deeply shaken. He lives out his days an embittered and suspicious cynic, wary of everyone around him, especially his wife Faith. The story concludes with this dismal statement and quota when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave...they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom and quote. According to A Handbook of Critical Approaches, the Formalistic Approach is one “with a methodology.” The Formalistic Approach requires a critic to examine the
structure, or form, of a literary work. For example, studying the imagery of a literary work can make the theme more apparent. “Images emerge as more and more
important…certain images, or colors…keep coming up…. Bit by formal bit, we
think we begin to see a theme emerging from the work.”). Young Goodman Brown is
the story of an innocent young man who realizes the imperfections and flaws of the world and its people, including himself. This knowledge is very painful and shocking to Young Goodman Brown just as knowledge was painful for
the prisoners in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The imagery used in Young Goodman Brown amplifies the theme of the loss of innocence. Images of the sunset and of a journey and several others appear throughout the story to amplify the theme of Young Goodman Brown. For example, in the beginning of the story, Young Goodman Brown is leaving his wife Faith at sunset to go on a journey that cannot wait. The
images of a sunset and of the approaching nighttime illustrate the fear of the unknown. Goodman Brown must travel through the darkness before he reaches the light of knowledge just as the prisoners in Allegory of the Cave must travel from the dark cave in order to reach the light. As the story continues, Hawthorne uses the image of a “dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest” to heighten the fear of the unknown. Goodman Brown has left the comfort of the cave of confusion and is beginning to discover the imperfections of the world and of its people. A teacher, who had “an indescribable air of one who knew the world”, leads
Goodman Brown from the cave. His teacher continually leads him along the path to enlightenment despite Goodman Brown’s attempts “to return whence I
came.” Goodman Brown learns that people are not perfect and that “good” people sometimes do “bad” things. People who Goodman Brown views as perfect, like the
governor and his Sunday school teacher are exposed as imperfect people who lie and cheat and steal by using the images of a stolen broom and a promise to be queen of Hell.
Hawthorne uses the image of a stern and darkly meditative man to describe Goodman Brown after becoming enlightened as to the ways of the world. The knowledge of the sin and evil in the world is very disturbing and painful to Goodman Brown. Before his journey from the cave, he viewed the world as a kind, sunny place with green pastures and flowing rivers for him to run and swim in without being harmed. People were generous and kind and never did terrible things. When Goodman Brown is led from the cave to enlightenment, he realizes that people are capable of hurting each other and that the world can be a very dark place full of pain and terror caused by imperfect and insecure people. Knowledge is often painful. By using imagery, the theme of Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown is made more
apparent to the reader.