Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”: Cynicism or Meliorism? Essay
Paul w. Miller in “Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown: Cynicism or Meliorism” states that critics have shared the feeling that Hawthorne’s story intends to express the move from the relationship between God and man that is brokered through faith to the state of evil taking charge resulting to the damnation of the human soul. He is not sure whether they think Hawthorne uses Goodman Brown to represent humanity as a whole or only the men who share the same sentiments as himself (255).
Miller says that if Young Goodman Brown represents the whole of humanity, then this should be an indication of the cynicism held by the author Hawthorne during the time he composed this story. He goes on to indicate that if Young Goodman Brown was a representative of a segment of people who share sentiments similar to his, then his creator must have been pessimistic.
In analyzing the words of Henry James, Miller says that the picture of Young Goodman Brown created by Hawthorne is not in any way intended to reflect his views about humankind. He says that it should however be viewed as simply work of creativity and nothing more. He however disagrees with James view by stating that unless other critics can analyze any work of art and the hidden meaning extracted, the work never qualifies not for a good art since this is what defines its quality.
According to Miller, whether or not the creation of Young Goodman Brown is a representation of humanity depends on whether or not there is human representation in the whole story. This he says would determine if Young Goodman Brown is the representative of humanity or not considering whether Hawthorne has a sample of humanity in the story. Miller argues that if there were a representative sample of humanity in the story, then it is possible that Brown would not be a representative of all humans (258).
Miller specifies that if in the story Brown moves from being faithful to be being evil, it is a clear indication strategically the story by Hawthorne targets to represent humanity. On the other hand if Brown is simply deluded by the devil with hallucinations and seeing false figures in the forest, it is then clear that he is not a representative of all humans but of a few who hold suspicions on others as he does.
There are critics who view Young Goodman Brown as skeptical according to Miller. These include Richard Forgie, who then based on this concludes that Brown is a representative of the entire humanity. McKeithan’s view is different considering his conclusion brought out by Miller that Brown cannot pass for a representative of all men or the other people in the story.
Miller concludes “…the witches that Brown saw in the forest were real” (260). He continues to justify Brown’s misanthropic view of the other people. His devotion to evil bars him to be regarded as a representative of all the other humans.
Miller states the need to replace Hawthorne’s explanation of witch trials as containing that puritan “rigorism” by a virtue, which starts with the confession of human weaknesses. Miller concludes by addressing how one need not to consider Brown’s story as based on his view on humanity but what the society can influence on a man such as Brown.
Miller, Paul. “Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’: Cynicism or Meliorism:” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 14. 3 (1959): 255-264. Print
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