The Anti-Hero and “Young Goodman Brown”

March 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

What draws masses of fans to midnight premiers of the Batman movies? What factor has made millions of people advent readers of Bruce Wayne, and other figures similar, such as the Punisher? They have no super powers, they must hide their identities from nearly all they come in contact with, and within their stories they are hated by most and feared by all. Even in classic literature, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”, the readers are inexplicably drawn to the title character in his quest, even though he actively converses with the shadowy figure of Lucifer himself. The main factor that makes these dark, dangerous men of action so appealing is that, above all else, they are human. They are real. We, as people all fall into sin and despair over and over again; that is what makes us human beings. We can identify with these darker, “real-life” vigilantes because we have been there before, even if it is not to the same level. Now, what do all these fictional figures have in common? They valiantly fight to save others, to defend those who can’t defend themselves. And they also are dangerously close to becoming the very thing that they struggle against…namely, the darkness. There is a reason that Batman is referred to as “the Dark Knight”, and that is because he uses his internal pain, his inner darkness, so to speak, as a weapon to defeat the enemies of good. He is a man tip-toeing the line between good and evil. The character of Goodman Brown is, like the Caped Crusader, a grand representation of the modern anti-hero. The dark hero is brought to this point by tragedy, he embraces the deep dark around him to strengthen him, and yet he still manages to hold on to enough good to keep him sane. First, what brings Brown to the very edge of darkness? The same which brings every man to the point of desperation: gut-wrenching tragedy. For Batman, it was losing his parents in his youth that spurred him on his way to becoming the world’s greatest detective. For Browne, it is the moment when he realizes that his Faith is attending that heathen ceremony. Brown cries out in despair when he see’s one of Faith’s pink ribbons drift down from above. “My Faith is gone!” (Hawthorne 392) cries a disillusioned Brown. This is the same man that just a few paragraphs before devoutly stated “With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!” (391). The terms of “Faith” and “faith” are used almost interchangeably in the text. While one refers to Goodman Brown’s new wife (Faith) and the other refers to belief and pursuit of Christ, they are one and the same to Brown. He even says at the beginning of the story how he will “cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven” (387). The title character puts all his hope for salvation in his wife, even though at the beginning of the novel it is he who leaves her with a “present evil purpose” (387). He meets with Lucifer, but grows more and more resistant to him as they walk through the woods. Brown “genuinely wishes to escape the Devil’s snare” (Levy 1), and proves this by defending his family name and finally, after seeing Satan and goody Cloyse converse, he refuses to go on further. Again, he uses Faith as his rock, stating “Is that any reason why I should quit my Faith..?” (Hawthorne 390). Faith is everything and more to the protagonist, just as parents are everything and more to a young, dependent child. Now that his wife has walked down the broad path to destruction, Goodman Brown loses the one thing in his life that means the most to him. And it pushes him over the edge, as he becomes “maddened with despair” and begins the transformation into something more terrifying than the character of Satan himself. What gives Batman his power? What helps him defeat the vilest foes of the criminal underworld, such as the Joker, Bane, and Two-Face? Yes, he possesses vast fortunes and technology, a brilliant mind, and a strong body, but Bruce Wayne’s true strength comes from his ability to harness the darkness and fear within him. In essence, Batman is the face of fear itself, and Goodman Brown becomes that way as well. After losing Faith, he became “the chief horror of the scene” (392), as he grapples the line between sanity and madness. He fiercely cries, “Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself! And here comes goodman Brown” (392). He understands that he has gone to the dark side, that he has become the very thing that Puritans are supposed to be against but he does not care. He even likens himself to the devil, saying “You may as well fear them as he fears you!” (392). Brown was no saint, as he began walking down the Devil’s path at the very beginning of the tale, however hesitant and eventually defiant he became. But it was when he lost all hope, as discussed in the previous paragraph, that he became a “demoniac” speeding among the dark forest to the heathen ceremony. And there is no coincidence that the setting is a pitch black forest in the middle of the night. The forest represents “the deceit and darkness of man’s heart” (Soler 1). This is especially true of Brown’s heart after he loses Faith, when he succumbs to the darkness of the world, and takes up the devil’s staff. The woods are a terrifying place for a Puritan, full of dangers such as beasts and Indians. Yet, Brown throws himself recklessly through the forest. He descended down this route “with a disappearance of self” (Soler 1), and Brown indeed loses his own identity, becoming a monster. Sometimes, in order to best the darkness, it is necessary to become the darkness, to become the most terrifying thing imaginable. Right when all seems lost, for both the Caped Crusader and goodman Brown, there is something that brings them back from giving in fully to the darkness; it keeps them from plunging over the cliff’s edge beyond just the “essential iniquity of mankind” (Humma 425). All men are sinners at heart, but when a man caves in to the sin of all the world around him, it is unbelievably difficult to know when to draw the line. For Batman, it is his rule to never kill, no matter how vile the criminal. For Brown, it is the realization that his beloved Faith can be saved. Without that rule, Batman is the same as the street thug he fights against, and without Faith, Brown is, as said earlier, on the same level as Satan himself, trapped in “an unending cycle of misery” (McCabe 1), as he sadly finds himself in at the end of the story. After Brown does not see Faith in attendance, he comes back into his own as “hope came into his heart” (Hawthorne 393). He begins to realize that maybe he was afraid of nothing, as his beloved Faith is not among the heathen company at all. However, he has come to close to the fire, so to speak, and when the voice of the devil beckons, he comes forward to join the group, “by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart” (Hawthorne 393). Brown became evil to combat the evil that threatened his new wife, but he seems to have strayed too close to the edge of that dangerous cliff. When it is revealed that Faith is the other “convert”, he panics as they stand there. He calls out to his love, telling her to “Look up into Heaven and resist the Wicked One!” (Hawthorne 395). When he returns to the town after the actual or imagined nightmare, Brown has no faith left, as he walks by his wife without a second glance. He has lost the thing that he fought for: Faith, the one who he would cling to and follow to heaven. The goodman became a version of evil incarnate to save her, but he is too late. Because of this, he is doomed to to dwell in a place “individuals can not trust themselves, their neighbors” (McCabe 1), and this “can not create an atmosphere where faith exists” (McCabe 1). Where Batman’s rule keeps him from crossing the line because it is always there, Brown lost the only reason why he went so far down that dark path of sin and devilry in the first place. He used the means, but received nothing but heartache and suffering in return. There is the real tragedy of this tale…the man who literally did everything and more to save someone (or something) he loved and failed anyway. There is truly nothing new under the sun. The same reason why Batman is so popular today is why the title character of “Young Goodman Brown” was and still is so popular, namely the dark, real-life hero aspect. These are men we can reach out and touch because they are so human. We all have struggles and we all have a dark side. The thing that all at once pulls us in and pushes us, as readers and movie-goers, away is the simple fact that Batman and Brown are not afraid to use this dark side for good. Whether it’s saving Gotham from the clutches of Mr. Freeze or the Penguin, or desperately attempting to rescue the love of someone’s life from damnation and the clutches of Satan himself, sometimes it is necessary to fight fire with fire, to wrestle with hell using the demons inside you. Works CitedHawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 1835. Volume B: 1820-1865. Ed. Nina Bayum and Robert S. Levine. New York City: W.W. Norton and Co., 2012. 386-95. Print. Humma, John B. “‘Young Goodman Brown’ and the Failure of Hawthorne’s Ambiguity.” Colby Quarterly 9.8 (1971): 425-31. Colby Quarterly. Web. 21 Sept. 2013. . Levy, Leo B. “The Problem of Faith in ‘Young Goodman Brown.'” Journal of English and Germanic Philology: 1-11. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Juliet Byington. Vol. 95. Detroit: Gale Group, 2007. 375-87. Print. Soler, Angie. “The Journey Into the Puritan Heart: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.'” Rev. of Young Goodman Brown. American Literature Research and Analysis. Ed. Jim Wohlpart. Florida Gulf Coast University, 1998. Web. 21 Sept. 2013. . McCabe, Michael E. “The Consequences of Puritan Depravity and Distrust as Historical Context for Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown.'” Rev. of Young Goodman Brown. American Literature Research and Analysis Web Site. Ed. Jim Wohlpart. Florida Gulf Coast University, 1998. Web. 21 Sept. 2013.

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