Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories
Symbols and flaws in Short Stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Throughout his works Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil, and The Birth-Mark, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses symbolism to show that all humans are inherently flawed and are sinful by nature, and teaches the lesson that you can not obsess over it or try to defeat the nature of our natural imperfections because it will lead to self destruction. Each story has symbols that represent mankind’s innate flaws, such as the important people in Goodman Browns’s life that are part of the Devil’s community, the veil, and the birthmark. Through each of these symbols, the characters Goodman Brown, the Minister, and Aylmer recognize that everyone is naturally flawed, and cannot let this knowledge go. Knowing this affects them deeply and causes each of them to end up living sad and lonely lives. Hawthorne uses these stories to teach us not to obsess over the fact that everyone is naturally flawed as these characters did.
In Young Goodman Brown, Hawthorne uses the characters that Goodman Brown sees at the Devil’s congregation as symbols of revered people that are naturally sinful in order to show that everyone is inherently flawed. Goodman Brown’s reaction to seeing this serves as a lesson that obsessing over the natural fact that all humans are sinful can be extremely detrimental. Characters such as Goodman Brown’s ancestors whom he looked up to such as Goody Cloyce who had taught him, the Minister who was supposed to be pious, and the Deacon who is supposed to be noble represent wholesome and respectable people who have contributed to Goodman Brown’s life, and Hawthorne uses them to show that even people who seem dignified are naturally sinners. Goodman Brown admires all of these characters and thinks that they are especially virtuous, however he discovers that they are affiliated with the Devil. The Devil also represents Goodman Brown’s grandfather in the story, which shows that even “venerable” people who one may look up to are sinners. In the end of the story his faith helps him to leave the sinful community, however he can never let go of the knowledge that all of the people so important in his life are so sinful. From then on, he looked at all these people in a different way; he obsessed over the fact that everyone was naturally so flawed, and could not handle this knowledge. He became a “stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful” man. He was changed and essentially destroyed by obsessing over this fact. Hawthorne uses his story to teach the lesson that we are all naturally sinful and flawed, but we can not obsess over it because it will destroy us.
In The Minister’s Black Veil, Hawthorne uses the black veil as a symbol of sins to give another example of someone who has realized that everyone is inherently flawed and obsesses over it, which leads to their downfall. Randomly, the minister veils himself one day and refuses to take it off for the rest of his life on Earth. He does this as a symbol of his recognition of his own sins, and claims that “on every visage [there is] a Black Veil.” He claims that everyone has black veils, symbolizing sins, and he chooses to wear his sins for the rest of his life. Wearing the Black Veil scared people away, and ended up making him die a lonely, secluded man. Hawthorne uses the minister as an example of somebody who obsessed over human’s natural corruption and ends up depleting his life because of it. This serves as another warning that we must accept mankind’s innate flaws and not obsess over it or let it take over our lives.
In The Birth-Mark, Aylmer similarly leads himself to his own downfall by obsessing over Georgiana’s birthmark, which is a symbol of flaw. Georgiana is described as a beautiful, almost perfect woman, with her only “flaw” being the unusual birthmark on her cheek. This birthmark represents Georgiana’s flaw. Hawthorne uses this symbol to show that even the most “perfect” humans naturally have flaws. Aylmer obsesses over the birthmark and is determined to remove it. He tries to surpass nature with science and beat the natural imperfections of mankind, however in doing this he ends up killing Georgiana by mistake. He was so obsessed with the intrinsic flaws that he felt he had to overcome nature, which led to him killing his own wife and similarly to the other characters, living a lonely, unhappy life.
Each of these stories exemplify the fact that all humans are inherently flawed and sinful, and each has a character who obsesses over it, which leads to their downfalls. Each character discovers these flaws and can not let them go, which changes them and separates them physically and emotionally from all others, leaving them to live unhappily and die alone. Hawthorne uses these stories to teach the lesson to accept that all humans are naturally flawed, but to not let the knowledge of it take over our lives because we can not change the nature of it, which destroys us.
Hawthorne’s Vision of the Urbanistic Triumph and Country Defeat
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” is a tale of opposites and upset expectations. The ideal of the country or rural life is met by the overpowering, even corrupted nature of city life. Robin, the protagonist, the country boy striving to make it in the big city, is constantly being torn between his rural roots and the appeal of urban opportunity and success. Through diction and a careful characterization of nature, Hawthorne depicts a scene rife with tension between rural and urban where the country is ultimately overtaken by and surrenders to the city.
The short story begins with Robin’s thoughts of the town, which are ridden with a sort of sarcastic indignation. Torn between his country roots and the city’s opportunities, Robin tries to remain loyal to his rural home by passively slighting the city, calling it a “snore of a sleeping town.” The reader knows that the city is not boring—after all, it is home to a handful of colorful characters, notably a wily prostitute and a two-faced man. One could reasonably assume, then, that the evaluation of the town as a “snore” is meant more to persuade Robin than the reader. As a rhetorical device, “this snore of a sleeping town” makes the city sound unremarkable and ordinary, though, as the reader soon discovers and may already know, the town is anything but ordinary. In another attempt to make the city sound unexciting, Robin claims that the tedious silence is only occasionally broken by “a distant shout, apparently loud where it originated.” The inclusion of the word “apparently” yet again makes Robin sound sarcastic, as if the sound of the shout was so distant and weak that, while it may have been threatening in its place of origin, it is not menacing for him. Robin recognizes the stark differences between rural and urban life and therefore assumes a position of defense, repeatedly trying to convince himself that the city is not a threat to his country roots. Robin is, in fact, frightened by the city life and its urbanity, which is why he decides to climb into a window frame and look at the inside of a church. Being the son of a clergyman, it makes sense that Robin should seek solace and pace in the church: he hopes to be reminded of his father and his rural hometown, rooting him in something familiar and comforting.
Robin feels the need to defend the rural by slighting the urban because, as the language in the passage exhibits, the urban is slowly yet systematically conquering the rural. The moonbeams entering through the church window are characterized as “trembling” and weak, “[falling] down upon the deserted pews” and “hovering about the pulpit.” The moonlight here, symbolizing all of nature, is weak and hesitant, unsure of its position in the city and constantly mitigated by the urban landscape. The moonbeams “[fall] down” on the pews, making their presence seem passive, nearly accidental. Hawthorne writes that a “solitary ray had dared to rest upon the page of the great Bible,” implying that nature must possess a sort of audacity to exist in the city. Furthermore, the story explicitly asks the reader to consider nature’s relationship to the manmade city: “Had nature, in that deep hour, become a worshipper in the house, which man had builded?” This rhetorical question leads the reader to believe that nature has bent to the whims of man, existing only in the city by accident or by permission.
Robin, aware of nature’s inevitable defeat by and surrender to urbanity, feels his “heart shiver with a sensation of loneliness stronger than he had ever felt in the remotest depths of his native woods.” Seeing nature bend to the city’s rules unnerves Robin, leaving him with a profound sense of loneliness and even a distorted sense of reality, hence his nearly trance-like, dreamy state. Robin is consumed with overwhelming loneliness and hopelessness because he is, in fact, the only purely natural thing remaining in the city. Even in his loneliness, however, Robin is conceding to the persuasion of the city, stating that his emotions had never been as intense, even “in the remotest depths of his native woods.” That is, they city conjures and claims Robin’s strongest emotions, yet again triumphing over the country.
By establishing a power struggle between the country and the city, Hawthorne challenges the idyllic notion of nature’s power. As Robin wanders the urban streets and sees the moonlight overtaken by manmade, city buildings, the reader begins to realize that, in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” nature loses its power and inevitably succumbs to the persuasion of the city. By closely examining this passage, a thorough reader might even be able to predict Robin’s response to the strange man’s offer at the close of the story. If Robin’s actions follow this trend of the urban triumphing over the rural, he will most certainly become the shrewd young man he claims to be by deciding to stay in the city and forsaking his rural roots.
The Impact of Religion in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”
Getting Lost Along the Way
Various social movements have shaped society politically, economically, and religiously as centuries have passed. Religion especially has had a momentous impact. During the 16th and 17th centuries, a reform movement known as Puritanism spread voraciously. Puritans sought to take their passion for their religion (Protestant) and rewrite and equalize the faith of the entire nation. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “Puritans believed that it was necessary to be in a covenant relationship with God in order to redeem one from one’s sinful condition, that God had chosen to reveal salvation through preaching, and that the Holy Spirit was the energizing instrument of salvation.” A covenant is a two-way promise between two beings. Since this word is more commonly associated with religion, it usually means a promise between a mortal and divine being, such as God. A reformation founded passionately about promises can be dangerous. There is a severe consequence for those who break or can’t keep them: “condemnation to hell” (Gettysburg).
This movement made such a notable impression on society that it remained a topic of literary interest for authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne two hundred years later. Literature is familiar and accessible to a wide variety of readers, which acts as an efficient catalyst between a nation’s history and the nation itself. This goes to show that literature, especially fiction, acts as a metaphor for historical events. By definition, a metaphor acts as a figural representation for a literal object or concept.
In writing this story, Hawthorne tries to inform his readers that the issue of wavering faith is still troubling souls two hundred years after the height of an intense religious reformation. His short story, Young Goodman Brown, is shaped by metaphors and symbolism to address such an issue. In the case of the main character, his faith wavers against his newly-acquired beliefs of Puritanism. The physical journey Goodman Brown takes in his dream is representational of his spiritual journey.
When the story begins, we are introduced to Goodman Brown. His name is representative of all good men (or rather, those who try to be). We learn that he has been newly-married to his wife, Faith, for three months. Hawthorne’s deciding to name Goodman’s wife this makes it clear to the reader that this story isn’t going to provide a simple, literal narrative, but a religiously symbolic one as well (see also: the 15th century British morality play, Everyman). Faith represents just that: Goodman’s faith in God. He is a fresh convert to Puritanism, but is doubting his decision. This is why he decides to leave Faith and embark on an unknown errand. He isn’t sure he will be able to make the lifelong commitment.
As Goodman journeys into the dark forest, he falls asleep and has a dream. In this dream, he continues his quest through the forest. Before long, he meets a mysterious man (the devil) who offers him his serpent staff (temptation). He treats Goodman like he would an old friend, despite the fact that the two have never met before. He claims to be an old family “friend.” This is how the devil operates. According to most Christian religions, the devil is charismatic and alluring in his attempts to lead the faithful into darkness and uncertainty.
Goodman and the man continue their expedition and come upon familiar people such as Goody Cloyse. This woman is known to be one of the most devout members of the church in town. To see her wandering through the dark forest causes Goodman to realize that not everyone is who they seem to be. Even the most faithful can be led astray–a key message that Hawthorne wants to convey. This frightens him and he starts to question his errand: “‘What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil, when I thought she was going to heaven! Is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?’” (2425) His faith is wavering, but he hasn’t given in to the darkness just yet.
The moment of climax arrives when he reaches the heart of the dark forest and witnesses a “witch-meeting” (2430). He sees his beloved Faith there, too. This is a moment of truth as we realize that Goodman has lost his F/faith, something he thought he could never lose. He tries to call out to her, urging her to resist evil. While doing this, he is also urging himself to resist evil. “Whether Faith obeyed, he knew not” (2430).
Goodman awakens disoriented and unsure of what to make of his dream. Unfortunately for him, “it was a dream of evil omen” (2430). He experiences a change of heart that affects the rest of his life. No longer can he see his fellow townspeople the same way, not even his own wife. He lives the rest of his life in a stupor of bitterness and uncertainty. On his voyage, Goodman Brown failed to find peace. Instead, he lost himself and his religious dignity along the way. No longer can he be considered a “good” man, but instead, a “lost” man.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature.
6th ed. Vol. B. Boston: Patricia Coryell, 2009. 2422-430. Print. “Puritanism | Religion.”
Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 July 2014. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
“The Puritan Beliefs.” The Puritan Beliefs. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.
The Presence of Laughter in Hawthorne’s works
Within Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” and “Young Goodman Brown,” the presence of laughter is used repeatedly across both narratives, often for dramatic effect, showcasing the act’s many facets and qualities. Most typically, laughter is associated with cheer or general happiness. It is an outwards expression of internal feeling, which usually establishes itself through audible and visible demonstration. In Hawthorne’s case, this notion is challenged and further diversified, as numerous characters in both stories laugh for a multitude of reasons. Across Hawthorne’s two tales, laughter serves as a representation and indication of community and belonging, mischief and rebellion, unease and agitation, as well as mockery and humiliation. As a result of such varying implications, the protagonists of “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”—the shrewd, young Robin—and “Young Goodman Brown”—the titular Goodman Brown—are both guided and left confused by the action, thereby creating a distinctive power structure and separation of roles among the stories’ many characters.
Throughout “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” and prior to its climax, much of the story is devoted to illustrating the naive Robin’s struggles to locate his kinsman Major Molineux’s lodging and pay the major a visit. Shortly after his initial rejections by the local townspeople, Robin stumbles upon a few scenes of shared joy. Looking into a dwelling-house, he notes that “the fragrance of good cheer steamed forth into the outer air” (882), dually characterizing the partygoers’ positive spirits and the scent of their food. Through this metaphor, Hawthorne depicts laughter—or, the broader sense of joint happiness—as something detectable, but not entirely tangible. In pairing laughter with a hearty meal, Hawthorne not only emphasizes Robin’s physical hunger, but implies a deeper, emotional pining for acceptance and belonging, cementing Robin’s role as the outcast. This occurs yet again when Robin overhears the uproar of the far-off crowd later in the evening, causing him to point out how “[he has] laughed very little since [he] left home … and should be sorry to lose an opportunity” (891). To Robin, laughter comes almost like second nature, thus making its absence odd. Like the earlier passage, he considers it as integral to his survival and wellbeing as eating food is. Therefore, as both observer and outsider, Robin attempts to seek companionship in those around him, subsequently outgrowing his naiveté through the jeering crowd with whom he later decides to band.
By contrast, the devilish congregation in “Young Goodman Brown” showcases a darker side of community and belonging, as conveyed through their use of laughter. Tormented by the sights of those he held dear working as the Devil’s pawns, Brown begins to hear a faint hymn from the depths of the forest, in which “all the sounds of the benighted wilderness … [were] pealing in awful harmony together” (917). This perverted depiction of church music and laughter—particularly in association with the Devil himself—creates an atmosphere of eerie tension, captured in a dramatic cacophony of awful noise. In addition to this, Brown then describes the wicked “visage” of the “fiend-worshippers” at the assembly, how the “smile of welcome gleamed darkly” upon their faces (919). What may have been perceived by the foolish Robin as a genuine display of hospitality is instead a manifestation of communal sin, making laughter a double-edged sword. Hawthorne presents laughter—and smiling—as a method of deception and an illusion of goodwill, emphasizing Brown’s efforts to accept the contradictory and sinful nature of those around him. Whilst Robin continues to chase after idealized encounters of politeness and benevolence, Brown is forced to confront his presumptions of the people within his community, as his faith, his trust, and the social hierarchy all slowly disintegrate.
Along this same vein, Hawthorne uses laughter to indicate shows of mischief and rebellion. Laughter in “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” primarily appears as something unrestrained and possibly uncontrollable. When the distant crowd first catches Robin’s attention, he makes reference to how there were “frequent bursts from many instruments of discord, and a wild and confused laughter filled up the intervals” (891). In this case, laughter is a disruption of the otherwise peaceful evening, pointing to activities of the more riotous sort. Contrary to the more subdued, romanticized image of cheer as depicted prior, as though shifting alongside the passage of time, laughter takes on a more volatile nature as the evening wears on and inhibitions are lowered. This makes for a fitting climax to the story, too, as it marks the first time Robin actively chooses to acknowledge, address, and vocally respond to the presence of laughter. “The shouts, the laughter, and the tuneless bray, the antipodes of music” (892) were all heard before the originators of such noises were seen, pointing to laughter’s dominating quality. Through this, laughter overtakes individualism, reducing single persons into a general mob only determinable by sound. In similar fashion, the “grave and dark-clad company” (917) in “Young Goodman Brown” is initially identified by their individual titles and roles, but soon moulds into an amorphous mass, unified through their sacrilegious intentions.
Moreover, the climactic peak of “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” exhibits how laughter can stem from unease or agitation. When the disgraced Major Molineux is finally revealed, “in tar-and-feathered dignity” (892), Robin’s response is immediately presented as both the narrative’s and the character’s pivotal turning point. As “the contagion [of laughter] … [spread] among the multitude [of the crowd,] … Robin’s shout was the loudest there” (893-894). Having been subjected to ruthless scrutiny and disrespect throughout the evening, Robin’s decision to laugh signified rejection in more ways than one. To begin with, laughter is compared to a “contagion” (893), an illness infecting the townspeople that soon latches onto Robin himself. This paints laughter in a less flattering light, thus adding to the significance of Robin’s choice to join in. In this sense, Robin is reborn through this moment of laughter, as he learns to comprehend the connotations behind either option. By refusing to laugh, Robin will not only present himself as a sympathizer in the eyes of the unforgiving crowd, but he may also have to face consequences similar to that which Major Molineux had to bear. By becoming an active participant in the humiliation of his kinsman, Robin demonstrates a profound awareness of the act he is committing, in a surprising show of newfound maturity that was not present in the beginning.
Goodman Brown equally exemplifies the notion of appropriating laughter in order to combat against mocking voices, perhaps also at the expense of his own morality and well-being. After being taunted by the thoughts of his wife Faith worshipping the Devil, Brown issues a challenge to nature itself. “Let us hear which will laugh loudest! Think not to frighten me with your deviltry” (916), he cries at the wind. Later on, Brown is shown “shouting forth such laughter … [that it] set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him” (917). Across both tales, laughter is made a weapon that the two protagonists take advantage of to gain a higher footing than before. Whether that be the moral high ground or a place on an equal playing field, Robin and Brown both abandon the idea of moral superiority in order to advance in achieving their goals. Yet, Hawthorne additionally attributes the act of laughing with “demons around [Brown]” (917), illustrating the infernal imagery as a counterpart to Brown’s virtuous disposition. This then creates a dramatic point of contention, as Brown’s adamance against temptation only drives him further towards becoming one with the degenerate mob. Volume thus becomes a measure of Robin’s and Brown’s commitment to their actions and brings them to the same tier as their counterparts, whether they be sarcastic townspeople or demonic apparitions, leveling the uneven power dynamic.
Most evidently, however, laughter according to Hawthorne conveys intense mockery and humiliation, most commonly at the expense of the protagonists. Throughout his search for Major Molineux, Robin is met with “an ill-mannered roar of laughter,” “a general laugh … like the dropping of small stones into a kettle,” “drowsy laughter,” “a voice of sluggish merriment,” “a sharp, dry cachinnation,” “a great, broad laugh,” and “a fit of convulsive merriment,” all of which were voiced in response to his requests to be directed towards the Major’s house (881, 883, 886, 893). The final description, in particular, is likened to “a funny inscription on a tomb-stone” (893), indicating a sense of inappropriateness and wrongness. Laughter becomes bold-faced humor in the presence of death, especially exemplified during the grand reveal of Major Molineux’s subjugation. The diverse types and forms of laughter, as punctuated by the use of “a” and “an,” all come from sources unknown and undeterminable to Robin. Comparable to Goodman Brown’s visions in the forest, Robin is greeted by the sounds of laughter before he is able to locate their utterers. Left to his own devices and to ponder the reasons behind such laughter, Robin is depicted constantly searching for an elusive punchline, failing to realize that he himself was the joke all along. This once again paints him as the persona non grata, a reject of the town’s already-established social order. Laughter is therefore the townspeople’s way of slighting Robin and asserting their dominance over him, regardless of his affiliation with Major Molineux.
Hawthorne’s notion of laughter as mockery returns in “Young Goodman Brown,” taking form in the mysterious traveler’s patronizing treatment of Brown. At Brown’s proclamation of his unwavering integrity, the traveler “[bursts] into a fit of irrepressible mirth” and jokingly pleads with Brown, not to “kill [him] with laughing” (913). What was originally an intense, serious contemplation of human nature is completely overthrown by the traveler’s brazen dismissal, reducing the gravity of the situation to nothing but an opportunity for ridicule. The humiliation of Brown continues as he hears the sounds of “a young woman, uttering lamentations” (916), immediately struck with melancholy upon thought of his wife, Faith. As Brown unleashes a pained cry of Faith’s name, the forest taunts him in return with “a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter” (916). This fleeting moment of psychological torment wreaks havoc upon Brown’s psyche, inciting him to take up the serpent-like staff and journey towards the worshippers’ gathering. Along the way, Brown makes note of how “the wind tolled like a distant church-bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveler, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn” (916). Having committed himself to attending the twisted assembly, it seemed as though nature itself were jeering at Brown’s efforts and the sanctity of both puritanical religion and his own marriage, alluding to the slow deconstruction of such facets of society.
Considering the ideals of American literary nationalism, as illustrated by Ralph Waldo Emerson in “The American Scholar,” the motif of laughter in Hawthorne’s narratives is a direct celebration of “the near, the low, [and] the common” (706), making both “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” and “Young Goodman Brown” truly American texts in their own right. Although laughter emerged as an act of oppression for the shrewd and less knowledgeable Robin, it is later reversed and inflicted back upon the condescending townspeople, allowing Robin to demonstrate a maturity gained through past experience and observation. As Emerson points out, “drudgery, calamity, exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and wisdom. The true scholar grudges every opportunity of action past by, as a loss of power” (699). Having previously been subjected to the townspeople’s dismissive behavior without any recompense, Robin’s audacious participation in mocking the disgraced Major Molineux serves as a call to action. Though still but a fledgling, unsure of its own identity, Robin represents America’s quest for independence and laughter—the conscious decision to forego and reject its Britain-dominated past. “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” addresses America’s shaky first steps towards freedom, liberty, and autonomy, still haunted by the jeers of its previous colonial rulers. In this sense, Hawthorne elevates the simple toils of an uneducated youth traversing a foreign, unforgiving town, and turns it into a tale of growth, alienation, and self-reliance.
Young Goodman Brown’s journey, conversely, indicates a failure to fully embody the spirit of American literary nationalism. Laughter, then, showcases the darker underbelly of “the near, the low, [and] the common” (706) of American livelihood, steeped in a seemingly corrupt moral code. In “The American Scholar,” Emerson states that “a great soul will be strong to live, as well as strong to think. … This is a total act. Thinking is a partial act” (701). One primary, foundational aspect of American literature is the act of reflecting upon day-to-day occurrences and turning the mundane into something “sublime and beautiful” (706). Emerson does not believe American literary scholars should merely cast fear and ignorance aside, but instead “look into its eye and search its nature, inspect its origin … henceforth defy it, and pass on superior” (703). The American literary movement, and America on a whole, values the merits of exploration and perseverance; this is seen as a source of strength and self-reflection. Brown, however, is unable to “pass on superior” (703), having been so thoroughly affected and shaken by the horrors he had to bear witness to. As a result, he could no longer listen to the deacon’s prayers, nor the choir’s hymns, nor the minister’s sermons, nor his own wife’s greetings. Brown is the image of America defeated and thoroughly beaten down, incapable of contemplating its complex history and moralistic pursuits. Contrary to the tentatively optimistic conclusion to “My Kinsman, Major Molineux,” “Young Goodman Brown” serves as Hawthorne’s fall-of-man narrative, particularly critical of the code of ethics within Puritan society.
In conclusion, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” and “Young Goodman Brown” reveal two different facets of the movement of American literary nationalism. The recurring motif laughter is used to illustrate the characters’ sense of community and belonging, mischief and rebellion, unease and agitation, and mockery and humiliation. These varying qualities are not only evidence of power structures as reinforced by American society, but indicators of the characters’ separation of roles as well. In the context of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar,” “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” captures the quintessential traits that uphold American literary independence, while “Young Goodman Brown” presents the movement in the event of failure. Emerson emphasizes in his renowned speech, “I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds” (706). By receiving the present as the everyday and ordinary, we will gain access to insights of both past and future and become more enlightened than before.
A Short Tale Young Goodman Brown by Hawthorne
Like so many of Hawthorne’s short tales, Young Goodman Brown is filled with symbolic connotations, in that it is explicit that the characters and actions stand for abstract qualities.
As Goodman Brown commences on his trip into the forest, a “fellow-traveler” walks with him, who it is obvious to be the Devil. The journey into the woods itself has symbolic importance, as is made plain when Goodman Brown responds to the request of the Devil to go farther into the woods. It is apparent then that Goodman Brown is pleased and satisfied of his own “goodness,” as portrayed by his name. For him, in his imaginings, at least, he is a “good man.” The journey into the forest, therefore, is representative of engaging with evil. Also, we see how the Devil responds to this affirmation of honesty.Vital to this story and so many of Hawthorne’s tales is the belief of the evilness of humanity, however righteous it pretends to be.
Hawthrone makes it explicit that sin affects everyone, including the seemingly “Goodman” Brown. There is a touch of irony to be known at those references to Brown’s family members. Brown affirms that he comes from a long line of honest and upright citizens of the Puritan society and the Devil agrees and brings up two examples. He states, “I helped your grandfather, the constable when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salam.” To Brown’s ears, the efforts of his grandfather are great because Quakers were not of the true faith and needed to be disciplined for their tradition of their differing religious views. But we as readers realize that Hawthorne is representing the narrow-minded and evil behavior of the Puritans.
The second example portrays that the Devil suggests that it was he that “brought [Brown’s] father a pitch-pine knot, kindled in [his] own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village.” Once again, Brown recognizes his father’s action against the innocent Indians as a proper thing, because the primitive Indians were “bad,” and Hawthorne is freshly depicting the irony of these people’s actions. In the name of assumed good, they are causing evil.
The Devil is forever influenced by immoral conduct, generally at the direction of “doing the right thing.” Understanding Hawthorne’s tone and his rhetorical position are essential to a sharp perception of his stories.When the Devil requests that Goodman Brown follow him into the woods, Brown determines that it is just too far and that his father and grandfather had never proceeded into the forest on such a corrupt job, so he mustn’t do so either. Brown affirms that “[they] have been a race of honest men and good Christians.” He assumes that if he follows the Devil into the woods, he would be the first of his family to do so.
Nonetheless, the Devil believes differently. In fact, he insists that he has been well-acquainted with Brown’s family. As an example, the Devil had supported Brown’s grandfather in striking a Quaker woman and Brown’s father in destroying an Indian village.
The Themes of the Struggle of Good Versus Evil, and Love in Young Goodman Brown, The May-Pole of Merry Mount, and The Minister’s Black Veil
Symbolism is a device Nathaniel Hawthorne takes full advantage of in his literary works. Through the use of both characters and material objects, Hawthorne reaches similar themes. Writing from an era of Puritans, his themes present in the form of Puritanism, the struggle of Good versus evil, and laden with love. Hawthorne’s central focus in “Young Goodman Brown,” “The May-Pole of Merry Mount,” and “The Minister’s Black Veil” are stories that invoke feelings toward the sins of man.
“Young Goodman Brown” tells the tale of a man who wants to be good, hence his name. He clings to both his literal and figurative Faith, the literal being his wife. Faith, as a concept, has characteristics of innocence, purity, and is often associated with religion or strong feelings; therefore, he continuously expects his wife to be pure-hearted and godly. With pink bows and an intoxicating housewife personality, Faith is expected to be the perfect symbol of the figurative faith. As long as Faith remains godly, Goodman believes it is possible for himself to be as well; however, appearance is not everything. Even those who look and seem the most innocent can be corrupt, including: Faith, an old man who turns out to be the Devil, and family. As Goodman discovers that sin lies in the heart of man, he becomes estranged from his literal and figurative Faith.
“The May-Pole of Merry Mount” is a tale of joy laden with sin and love. The townspeople of Merry Mount are frivolous and fun-spirited; The Puritans are reserved, sensible, and maintain a set of expectations for all. It is unknown which group represents good and which represents evil. It depends on the reader’s perspective; however, one symbol is clear. Edith and Edgar of Merry Mount are a symbol of love. They have a love that even impresses Endicott, the leader of the Puritan group. Even in a battle of good versus evil, no matter the heart, humanity still remains.
In “The Minister’s Black Veil,” a man named Parson Hooper voluntarily admits his sins as he dons a black veil. The townspeople see this sudden use of a veil as wearing his sin. To think- a minister who sins! It is difficult for people to accept that even a man of God has some degree of “evil” in his heart. It makes the townspeople and even Hooper’s fiancée uneasy; Parson Hooper, however, commits to wearing the veil until the end of his days. This represents how sin never really leaves a man. It could be inferred that the townspeople recognize that everyone wears a black veil, and that is what makes them uneasy.
Sin and evil affect everyone in some way. The psychological effects are different for everyone. Some choose to accept it, like Parson Hooper. Some people find the good left in it, like Endicott. Some choose to run from it and become consumed by it, like Goodman Brown.
The fragility of the human psyche and other issues in “The Birth-Mark”
Laden with allegories, dualisms, and symbolism, Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark” makes light of a variety of multi-faceted and complex issues, foremost among them those of sexuality and humanity. While the character of Aylmer seems both emotionally and intellectually secure, his obsession with perfection when applied to the subject of his wife Georgiana reveals deeper, more disconcerting stigmas that reflect the insecurity and fragility of the intellectual male psyche, while simultaneously exposing the inescapable and essential quality of imperfection to the scheme of mankind.
The ultimate tragedy of this work is foreshadowed almost immediately from its onset, with the narrator ominously stating how Aylmer
“…had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies, ever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strength of the latter to its own” (Hawthorne 645).
This initial description of Aylmer truly depicts him as the ‘man of science’ he is said to be. In stating that Aylmer would be unable to be distracted from science by any ‘second passion,’ Hawthorne reiterates that anything other than his initial passion for natural philosophy would always only be at best of secondary importance. Even when the narrator states that Aylmer’s love for Georgiana may become stronger than his devotion to science, it is concurrently observed that this feat could only be achieved if the two passions joined forces, ‘intertwining’ and ‘uniting strength.’ Each of these depictions of Aylmer’s character reinforce the notion that his identity is essentially inseparable from science and the habituations that are associated with it, therefore laying the groundwork for the eventual exposé of the scientist’s innate insecurities, and subsequently, those of the intellectual population of the male gender.
The dualisms of “The Birth-Mark” reflect a plethora of distinct perspectives on the male psyche, while simultaneously reflecting viewpoints on themes of sexuality. The henchman character of Aminidab serves as the ideal foil to Aylmer, representing all he is not; crude, vapid, and most importantly, masculine. This masculinity allows Aminidab to look past the birth-mark and realize the beauty of Georgiana, stating that “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birth-mark” (Hawthorne 649). Whereas Aylmer is obsessed with the perfection of Georgiana, Aminidab is at peace with the imperfection that the birth-mark represents. This stark dichotomy between Aylmer, the intellectual, and Aminidab, the representative of common man at his most base form, reveals the truly peculiar character that Aylmer is, and provides the basis for the eventual disclosure of his unique sexual predicament. Furthermore, the sharp contrast between the ethereal boudoir and the earthly lab symbolizes multiple other sexual themes. As shown by Georgiana’s take on the dichotomy between the lab and boudoir,
“The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by the quantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning for ages… The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with gaseous odors which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. The severe and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its naked walls and brick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become to the fantastic elegance of her boudoir,” (Hawthorne 653)
The potential biblical allusion to heaven and hell becomes clear, with the boudoir, a safe and beatific environment pitted against the ‘oppressive,’ ‘severe,’ nature of the lab. Further, the fact that Aylmer primarily works in the lab and Georgiana stays in the boudoir represents the sexual notion that females, the ‘fragile’ gender, can not handle the demands of an environment such as the lab. This supposition furthers the male-dominant ideal that drives the work, and contributes significantly to the central sexual conflict it revolves around.
The anti-scientific movement was one of the most prevalent sentiments throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, with Aylmer’s obsession with the removal of Georgiana’s titular birth-mark serving as a mirror image of this attitude. However, rather than merely attacking the scientific school of thought, Hawthorne uses this work as a personal assault on the psyche and character of the scientist himself. Rationalizing any female criticism of Georgiana’s imperfection by implying jealousy, Hawthorne notes, “Some fastidious persons – but they were exclusively of her her own sex – affirmed that the Bloody Hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the effect of Georgiana’s beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous” (Hawthorne 646), and justifying male acceptance of the birth-mark by implying infatuation and the common male obsession with the carnal and erotic, stating that
“Masculine observers, if the birth-mark did not heighten their admiration, contented themselves with wishing it away, that the world might possess one living specimen of ideal loveliness, without the semblance of a flaw” (Hawthorne 646)
Hawthorne effectively singles out the character of Aylmer as a male intellectual that is at odds with the birth-mark, a unique, monstrous hybrid of acceptance and disgust that fits no pre-established concept of coping with imperfection. This idiosyncratic characterization of Aylmer, a man who describes the birth-mark as a “crimson stain upon stain” with almost “fearful distinctness” (Hawthorne 646), establishes the basis for his depiction as a psychologically and emotionally frail being. In his obsession with the imperfection, and in his dangerously desperate attempt to remove the birth-mark, Aylmer reveals a distinctively Freudian perspective on the subject of sexuality. While indeed Aylmer is a man obsessed with achieving a sense of perfection that perhaps even he himself acknowledges to be unattainable, in the case of Georgiana, this desire for perfection doubles as a defense mechanism for his own sexual insecurity. In wanting to remove the birth-mark, despite the risk, despite the near perfection of Georgiana as she was, Aylmer in reality seeks to eradicate the sexuality of his wife that the ‘Crimson Hand’ represents. A deep-seated portion of Aylmer’s conscience hopes that Georgiana will return from their endeavor to remove the birth-mark changed completely, no longer a near perfect challenge to his own intellect and worldliness, and since yet another part of Aylmer knows that perfection is in fact unattainable by way of his previous “mortifying failures” (Hawthorne 650), his sexual confidence is secure in knowing that Georgiana will not, cannot, return flawless. However, while ultimately secure in his dominance of the female sex, Aylmer’s trifling necessity to himself be superior reveals the concerning nature of his own inherent sexual insecurity. Unable to accept the challenge of a near ideal counterpart, the subconscious of Aylmer must destroy any inkling of a confrontation to his established intellectual male psyche.
Ultimately, Georgiana’s destruction plays directly into the machinations of Aylmer’s subconscious, and though her passing may seem to be a tragedy, it is in fact a victory for the scientist’s pathetic, fragile psyche. His intellectual guise as having an obsession with ‘perfection’ reveals deeper, more disconcerting stigmas that reflect the insecurity and fragility of the intellectual male sexual complex, while simultaneously exposing the inescapable and essential quality of imperfection to the scheme of mankind.
Analysis of the Theme of Escape as Illustrated by Nathaniel Hawthorne in Young Goodman Brown and Washington Irving’s, Rip Van Winkle
The Wilderness in Young Goodman Brown and Rip Van Winkle
In the both of the two stories, Young Goodman Brown and Rip Van Winkle, the main characters are normal and innocent people who wander off into the woods, then fall asleep or enter a trance. Once the characters return from the woods, the world seems to have changed and they feel lost within their own community. These stories portray the to the wilderness as a place of mystery and escape, that is somewhat distant from society and reality.
In Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, goodman Brown leaves town to go into the forest. The woods he walks into is very erie, described as being “darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind” (Hawthorne 606). Goodman Brown was also fearful that there may have been “a devilish Indian behind every tree” (Hawthorne 606). Along the way, goodman Brown encounters a man who seems to be expecting him, because he tells Brown “ ‘You are late’ ” (Hawthorne 606). Goodman Brown replies saying that “ ‘Faith kept me back awhile,’ ” (Hawthorne 606), and this suggests that goodman Brown may have been trying to escape or get away from his wife by going into the forest. A lot of the language used to describe the wilderness in the story makes it seem like a mystified and conceded place, that goodman Brown uses as an escape from his wife and society. He later woke up the next morning, not knowing whether what he saw in the forest was real or not. “Had goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dream a wild dream of a witch-meeting?” (Hawthorne 614), and this further widens the gap between the forest and reality.
In Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving, Rip is an easy going guy who “unconsciously scrambles to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill mountains” (Irving 459), in order to avoid his nagging wife. Rip was constantly bothered by “the terrors of Dame Van Winkle” (Irving 459), so he decided to escape into the forest along with his dog. Along the way, Rip, similarly to goodman Brown, encounters someone who seems to be expecting him, when he hears his name being called. Rip travels with his new acquaintance through the mountains, and Rip heard “distant thunder, that seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft between lofty rocks, toward which their path conducted” (Irving 460). When Rip and his partner arrive at an amphitheatre, “new objects of wonder presented themselves” (Irving 460). This language makes the wilderness seem like a mysterious place with new things to be discovered in every place. Rip gets drunk on too much liquor and doesn’t awake until twenty years later. Once he returns to society, he is lost and feels alienated. “ ‘I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they’ve changed my gun, and every thing’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am!” (Irving 464). After Rip leaves the mountains, he comes back to his home, but it is not the same anymore, because Rip was isolated away from his society long during a time of rapid change, and he wasn’t there to see the changes.
In both stories, drastic changes occur to the main character’s perception of society upon their return from the wilderness. The wilderness is almost like a separated world from society; things happen in one place but the other place seems completely unaffected. Both authors use language that portrays the wild as a conceded and mysterious place, and is almost distant from reality.
Conflict Between the Individual and Society in “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Similar to most of Hawthorne’s works, The Minister’s Black Veil not only exemplifies the issues of morality, repentance and sin within the setting of Puritan New England, but it also exhibits the familiar literary theme of conflict between the individual and society. Through this kind of social, psychological and moral conflict, Hawthorne criticizes the Puritan image of original sin, as well as the stereotypical views this particular society bears regarding Reverend Hooper.
In spite of Milford’s religious community, the townspeople are quick to judge and resent Mr Hooper without ever directly enquiring him of the reason he wears the black veil to obscure his face. While “one or two” are considerate enough to assume that it is only because his “eyes were so weakened by the midnight lamp as to require a shade”, a majority of the community prefer severe accusations of his morality and mental health over good-judgment and practical questioning. It is evident that the society’s reaction towards Mr Hooper’s harmless black veil reflects their unfavourable qualities of ignorance and hypocrisy. Their antagonism however, does ironically bring them closer together as a community against the minister; the veil “supplied a topic for discussion between acquaintances meeting in the street, and good women gossiping at their open windows”.
Moreover, their reactions also prove the stereotypical views which they bear in regards to prominent – or more specifically – religious figures such as Reverend Hooper. As a minister, he is expected by the townspeople of Milford to be infallible; free of sin or of ultimately any wrongdoing. He is a kind of role model which the Puritan society rely on for guidance to purity and piety. However, the “horrible black veil” acts as a mask of sin, an object that “could portend nothing but evil” in the eyes of society. It emphasizes whatever immorality the minister might have done rather than conceal it. It is intended to remind people of the original sin inherent in all of them; a motive which unfortunately has always been disagreeable to the surrounding community, as people are always eager to hide their sins rather than admit it to the public. Therefore, the misconceived notion that the veil is worn to cover up some embarrassing sin is unacceptable to society, as Mr Hooper is, in their point of view, supposed to maintain the countenance of sanctity and not to be like the ordinary, wrongdoing man.
Besides this, the people of Milford appear to resent the fact that there is something of the minister that they do not know. It is possible that as a religious, prominent figure, the community expects Mr Hooper to be open and sincere with them, rather than conceal some “secret sin” or a secret in general. Just as how people of the contemporary age are always demanding for more information on famous celebrities, to the point where secrecy is meaningless, the townspeople are unhappy with the knowledge which Mr Hooper appears to know that they do not.
Although Mr Hooper does nothing more than wear a black veil, and continues his everyday duties as minister without difference, the community reacts with hostility; “strange and bewildered looks repaid him for his courtesy”, and their faces are always “pale” with fear when acknowledging him. As a response to Mr Hooper’s unnatural decision, society tries to overpower him, in spite of his respected position as a minister. They are insistent on the removal of the black veil, without considering its significance and submitting to the moral lesson it upholds. Even after listening to a prayer of the minister’s which explains the veil’s representation of a religious idea, the community continues to reject it. It is because the people fear the subject which the veil symbolically embodies: repentance, and their rejection of the veil signifies their refusal to repent. This proves that the society is misguided, as they overlook the fact that Mr Hooper is at a position of religious authority and tries to exercise their power over him.
On the other hand, it appears that the minister is not entirely the victim, as his adamant refusal to take off the veil, even when alone, highlights some stubbornness in his temperament. He is tangibly more spiritual than others, and is more devoted to the afterlife than his life on earth. However, with this profound resolution there is the obvious hint of arrogance in his quest for spiritual connection. Mr Hooper states that “this dismal shade must separate [him] from the world”, as though the world is such a detrimental place to live in. It connotes the idea that he is far better than the world, or is deserving of a better setting.
Lastly, society uses the common argument of a sinking reputation and public judgments against the minister to coerce him into giving up the black veil. This is done through Elizabeth, Mr Hooper’s wife, who declares, “Beloved and respected as you are, there may be whispers, that you hide your face under the consciousness of secret sin. For the sake of your holy office, do away this scandal!” This statement exemplifies the society’s unwarranted excessive care and concern over reputation and the judgment of other people, even if it were for the sake of religion. Mr Hooper contradicts this criticism with the modest excuse, “If I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same?”
In this fashion, the conflict between Mr. Hooper and society ensues throughout the story, and his achievement at keeping the veil on even at death proves his victory against his adversaries. However, it is a bittersweet triumph, as the minister wins at the expanse of rejection and alienation from everybody else, even the woman he loves.
The Main Ideas in the “Roger Malvin’s Burial” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
In his short story, “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” Nathaniel Hawthorne explores such fundamental themes as good, evil , sin, family, pride, and penance. However ,from the onset he warns us, “my tale is not of love”(Hawthorne 25). This is instead a tale of the depths of the human psyche and an explication upon the horrors of a tortured soul. Hawthorne uses the afflicted heart of Reuben Bourne as a medium to promulgate on the consequences of not following one’s own conscience. For from his story we can surmise, as he makes it quite apparent, that the retribution for not following one’s innate sense of right and wrong is severe and to be suffered intensely. Furthermore, it is a sin that must be expiated.
To begin to understand Hawthorne’s message, it is vital to examine his primary vehicle, and main character, Reuben Bourne. Bourne is introduced to the reader as a lighthearted youth on the brink of being “born” into manhood. On his way home from battle his real journey begins. What initially appears to be slightly ironic about this section is Hawthorne’s description of the surroundings, “The early sunbeams hovered cheerfully upon the tree tops”(18). This seems unexpected here because he goes on to describe the wounded nature of the soldiers. However, this is a reflection of the moral state of Bourne, which at present is innocent and pure. As the story progresses Bourne, against his better judgment, leaves Malvin to die alone in the forest. Here we gain some further insight into Bourne’s character. We know that he has a sweetheart at home, Malivn’s daughter, and we can see that intrinsically he wants to do what is right by Malvin, “I will dig a grave here by the rock, in which is my weakness overcome me we will rest together”(18). In spite of this, he lets Malvin convince him that it would be more reasonable for him to leave. “Tarry not, for a folly like this, but hasten away, if not for your own sake , for hers who will else be desolate”(20). Here is where Bourne’s internal strife is conceived, the moment he lets his intellectual reasoning over take his inherent sense of what is right. This is over come by his ” desire of existence and hope of happiness…”(22).
As he leaves the forest, it begins to represent isolation and despair. Here, isolation from oneself, despair at the death of Malvil. Hawthorne also continues his weather metaphor, “On the second day the clouds gathering densely over the sky, precluded the possibility if regulating his course by the position of the sun”(23). This is merely the beginning of a series of references to light and dark representing good and evil that will gauge for the reader the moral temperature of Bourne.
Upon reaching home Bourne exacerbates his guilty sentiments by avoiding the truth of what happened to Roger Malvin. He does this out of “pride, fear of losing her (Dorcus, his love), affection, the dread of universal scorn forbade him to rectify this falsehood”(25). This fear of isolation is paradoxical because by evading it he ultimately creates it. The remorse he felt for leaving Malvin, though justifiable, was the impetus for this concealment, which caused him to suffer “the mental horrors which punish the perpetrator of an undiscovered crime”(25). Once again Hawthorne employs light, which is manifested good, as something unbearable to contrast the sinfulness of Bourne’s soul, “…tottering from his sick chamber to breathe the sunny air, experienced from every tongue the miserable and humiliating torture of unmerited praise”(25).
As Reuben continues his life he is an unhappy man consumed by his shame “he was finally a ruined man” (26). He now has a son, Cyrus, is it apparent from annotation in the text that this name is an allusion to the biblical Cyrus who would save Israel, while Reuben is an allusion to the biblical Joseph’s brother who left him to die though his heart told him to do otherwise (26). Cyrus also seems to embody all that was virtuous in Reuben, “whatever was good and happy in his own nature had been transferred to his child..”(26). Once again in the month of May, eighteen years after Malvin’s death, a month of spring, of rebirth, and of new life, Reuben returns to the forest. The tremendous gravity of this experience is foreshadowed by his intentions, “He was to throw sunlight into some deep recesses of the forest”(26). Reuben’s sunlight has faded, any good he had can now be found in his child. Once again he returns to the place of isolation, which this time is not only representative of the isolation with himself but with his family and with his community. This time the symbolism of death is not only relevant to Roger Malvin, but to Cyrus as well.
The pine that had been cheerful the first May are now described repeatedly as “gloomy” (28, 29), serving as a reminder of Reuben’s internal strife and how he has changed in these eighteen years past. The climax of the story occurs when Malvin is “unable to penetrate the secret place of his soul where his motives lay hidden,” here “he believed that a supernatural voice called him onward and that a supernatural power had obstructed his retreat”(29). Faced with reason versus intuition he chooses the latter, and in doing so, makes the irreparable mistake that will ultimately expiate his sin. He unwittingly sacrifices his only son, much in a biblical fashion, and through this he is redeemed. This is also apparent in the sapling, which Reuben stained with his blood years prior and is now grown strong, though like Reuben is dead at the top. By returning his innocence in the form of his son to the forest, and dying, as he was perhaps intended to do all those years ago, he has been saved.
Hawthorne utilizes a variety of references, symbols, and ideas to convey his message that the retribution for not following one’s innate sense of right and wrong is severe and to be suffered intensely. Through the development of the main character, Reuben Bourne, Hawthorne makes apparent the harrowing affects of going against the core of one’s being, the conscience. The torment of the human psyche is only the beginning of the sorrow. The price of peace, he shows us, is not a simple one to pay.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Roger Malvin’s Burial.” Ed. James McIntosh. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales. Ontario: Norton, 1987.17-32