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.
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