The Allegory In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown
During the height of the Salem witch trials, the Hawthorne family lineage was extremely prominent when it came to the judging of said trials. As a result, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a great number of works, like The Scarlet Letter, surrounding the actions, mindset, and happenings in Salem, Massachusetts during the 1690s. In the short story “Young Goodman Brown” written by Nathanial Hawthorne, the simple allegories and simple morals do not quite demonstrate and fully represent what Hawthorne was trying to portray. Through the use of understanding and manipulating the different symbolic interpretations of the text does it become more clear surrounding the idea of a deeper meaning to the text apart from the surface layer response being the loss of innocence and Faith simply being a representation of faith. A basic, simplest level of interpreting this short story is through the literal level. On the surface, this text surrounds the newly-wed Goodman Brown as he journeys into the woods from his hometown of Salem when he encounters a strange older traveler who lures Brown into a satanic ceremony where he experiences supernatural occurrences causes Goodman Brown to act estranged and question his reality due to what he may or may not had witnessed.
But through symbolism and allusions, the more profound meaning of the text is made more transparent. Two main symbols in the text include the pink ribbons that are worn by Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, and the forest in which Goodman Brown travels into. The pink ribbons, in the short story, are representative of the innocence that the naive Goodman Brown perceives his wife to be. On the surface, that explanation may be enough for some, but, that straightforward description can be evolved into a hidden meaning.The obviousness of purity and sinless-innocence symbols are the two main ideologies that Goodman Brown reserves as he journeys deeper into the woods and temptations by the elderly traveler, who is now assumed to be the devil. This is shown in the quote: ““Poor little Faith!” (…)Well; she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven” (Hawthorne, line 7). However, Faith and her pink ribbons then become separate in front of Brown’s eyes which causes him to lose all control over the situation, shown when he exclaims ‘“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given.”(Hawthorne, line 50). Only one would react in such a way if what they believed to be true was an actual lie. This demonstrates the representation of the fall of grace after committing sin, which is what shatters the perception of Faith and reality that Brown held onto while venturing away from home, causing him to “cry of grief, rage, and terror” (Hawthorne, line 49). It is the moment that Goodman Brown has lost Faith, and therefore the pink ribbons, serve as the reminder that there are hidden natures to everyone.
For the forest itself, it embodies the unknown of the outside world. It is a literal boundary that separates villages and towns from each other, it mimics the time period when forestry encompassed the majority of the unexplored foreign land. This ties to the text by demonstrating the symbolism of the forest as outside the normal boundaries of right and wrong, opposing Goodman Brown’s comfort zone. For instance, Brown was pleased with the common everyday happenings in his puritan town, but, when venturing out, all of the assumptions of his town and religion get overturned and made him “more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be of their own” (Hawthorne, line 67). The forest is personified in the quote: “the murmur of the old forest, whispering without a wind” (Hawthorne, line 47). The stroll Brown takes into the forest reveals his consciousness to the suspicions of darkness and sin of his community, in which he then describes them as “both saints and sinners” (Hawthorne, line 47). It was as if the forest pursued the troubled unconsciousness of Goodman Brown and created a means to wake him out of his naïve state and comfort zone of ignorance. Overall, when short stories are written, the initial reaction of the text may come across as a simple response, but through further investigation, poses complicated questions that have no singular answer. Although the short story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne initially can come across as simple in its moral, allegory, and meaning, in actuality, the narrative portrays a more in-depth analysis of around the concept of innocence in spirituality being construed.
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