Literary Analysis of “Young Goodman Brown”
The Heroic Young Goodman Brown
Young Goodman Brown is a hero in the sense that he did not allow himself to give in to the evil deeds around him. The entire story is an allegory of commitment to goodness and faith. Goodman Brown’s abandonment of ‘Faith’, who in the story is his wife, to immerse himself into the world of devilry is a representation of how devotion to righteousness and a strong character, like that of Goodman Brown, cannot be easily shaken by overarching wickedness. In the story, the ‘shadow of sin’ descends on Brown and Faith (Wright 237). The ribbon indicates that, unlike Brown, Faith has surrendered to the devil’s enticements. In spite of his opposition to the ceremony in the forest, Brown is finally introduced to the devil that prowls within the village dwellers he has thought he is all too familiar with (Dobie 32).
Even though he opposes the devil to some extent, in the story nature and sin are connected (Hawthorne 28):
Verse after verse was sung, and still the chorus of the desert swelled between, like the deepest tone of might organ. And, with the final peal of that dreadful anthem, there came a sound, as if the roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howling beasts, and every other voice of the unconverted wilderness, were mingling and according with the voice of guilty man, in homage to the prince of all.
This idea suggests that the devil that challenges Brown’s faith is deeply rooted and all over the place, hence showing how difficult it is to resist the devil. But Brown is able to fight off the devil, even though he himself and Faith is lured to the ceremony. He sacrificed his love for his wife and good relationship with the villagers all for the sake of being ‘righteous’. Only a tough, heroic character can overcome such adversity.
At the meeting, Brown sees images of all the icons of power, influence, and piety in Salem village, as the demon proclaims (Crowley 305): “There… are all whom you have reverenced from youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your own sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerful aspiration” (Hawthorne 30). The demon further declares, “here they are in all my worshipping assembly. This night it shall be granted you to know their secret deeds: how hoary-bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eager for widows’ weeds, has given her husband a drink at bedtime and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom” (Hawthorne 30). All these passages point to the reality that only Brown, among the villagers, has been able to defy the powerful temptation of the devil, which even the holiest of the villagers have failed to resist.
However, in the process of fighting off the devil, Brown is slowly succumbing into ‘the gloom’, which in the end totally engulfed him as he ultimately came out of the ceremony relatively unscathed by the devil’s invitation of conversion. But this ‘gloom’ is, in my personal opinion, the ultimate symbol of Brown’s heroic efforts to preserve his own righteousness.
Crowley, J. Donald. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge, 1997. Print.
Dobie, Ann. Theory into Practice: An Introduction to Literary Criticism. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. New York: Wildside Press LLC, 2005. Print.
Wright, Sarah Bird. Critical Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009. Print.