The Symbolism of Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown Essay
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The Symbolism of “Young Goodman Brown”
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Young Goodman Brown,” shows the reader the author’s power as a symbolist.
Frederick C. Crews in “The Logic of Compulsion in ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’” explores the symbology that prevails in Hawthorne’s best short stories:
. . . I chose this one tale to analyze because it illustrates the indispensability, and I should even say the priority, of understanding the literal psychological dramas in Hawthorne’s fiction. Like all of his best tales, this one is packed with symbolic suggestions and invite a moralistic reading. . . . (111).
Peter Conn in “Finding a Voice in an New Nation” states his evaluation of Hawthorne as a…show more content…
Commenting on the rich symbolism of Hawthorne’s tales or short stories, Edmund Fuller and B. Jo Kinnick in “Stories Derived from New England Living” state: “Hawthorne’s unique gift was for the creation of strongly symbolic stories which touch the deepest roots of man’s moral nature” (31). Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” says that the author was forever “perfecting his delicate craft of the symbol, of allegory, of the few themes and oft repeated character-types which were to haunt forever the minds of those who know New England” (42).
Let us begin with the opening lines of the story: “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem village. . .” What is Goodman Brown symbolic of? 1. According to Levy, he “is Everyman. The bargain he has struck with Satan is the universal one . . . . Initially, he is a naive and immature young man who fails to understand the gravity of the step he has taken . . . [which is] succeeded by a presumably adult determination to resist his own evil impulses” (117). 2. Fogle writes that he is “a naive young man who accepts both society in general and his fellow men as individuals at their own valuation, [who] is in one terrible night confronted with the vision of human evil . . . ” (15). 3. Q. D. Leavis in “Hawthorne as Poet” states that “the relevant point is that Young Goodman Brown is Everyman in seventeenth century New England” (35). And what is Salem
Faith - We'll start with an easy one. Young Goodman Brown's wife is an obvious symbol for Young Goodman's Brown faith. Although Brown dies a bitter man, blaming the wickedness and hypocrisy of others, he leaves his Faith first.
Young Goodman Brown - This too is a hammer over the head symbol. Young Goodman Brown symbolizes the innocence of young, good men, who are all tempted and to some extent all give in. Brown's journey, therefore, represents the loss of innocence (We'll talk about this more when we discuss allegory in "Young Goodman Brown.").
Salem - Salem remains the most notorious colonial town in American History, famous for its witch trials in 1692 (dramatized brilliantly by Arthur Miller in The Crucible). At the core of the Salem Witch Trials was the hypocrisy of the town's more prominent citizens and the stupidity and pride of the town's clergy in encouraging the trials to take place. It would not be a stretch, therefore, to assume that the "good people" of Salem would have communed with the devil (symbolically speaking). Hawthorne had a personal connection with the trials, being a descendant of one of Salem's prominent judges who sentenced several "witches" to death.