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An Analysis of the Short Story "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Updated on November 8, 2016
Portrait of Nathanial Hawthorne
Portrait of Nathanial Hawthorne

Dark and Haunting

The New Testament defines evil as an entity that opposes God and God's people. Webster's Dictionary defines evil as "having bad natural qualities; harmful; disagreeable; vicious; corrupt; wicked; unfortunate."

In religion, evil is an entity that hovers on the dark side of the battle between black and white, while the Webster's definition humanizes evil leading into the gray area of human nature.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his short story "Young Goodman Brown," addresses the definition of evil. He show us the conflict between how Young Goodman Brown perceives evil as an entity in contrast to the dark and sometimes haunting reality of human nature.

Nathaniel's character, Young Goodman Brown, views the world through religious spectacles. He displays Young Goodman Brown's perception of evil as an entity by revealing to the reader how social and physical appearance is judged superficially, and how pious good graces are used to try to gain freedom from the threats of evil.


Halloween

During Halloween, we see children and adults dress in costumes that make them look evil, yet under most of the costumes one finds, not evil, but our children.

Judeo-Christian religions disguise human nature in many costumes. Many believers have icons taking the place of human nature. So it is no surprise that to stress the religious definition of evil, Young Goodman Brown uses social and physical appearances to judge whom he considers good or evil.

He see the traveller with the stick as the devil because of his appearance. When he is tempted by the traveler, he supports his town by saying,

"...We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness."

Young Goodman Brown assumes the townsfolk are good because of their social status and because he is naïve. When he is confronted by "the truth" that the whole town was practicing deviltry, his faith is lost.

Hawthorne reveals the character's fear that evil is within man,

"The fiend in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man."

The Story of Job

The story of Job in the Old Testament has Job being tossed around by a bet placed between God and the Devil. During his wearisome ordeals Job kept looking to the heavens and begging mercy on the grounds that he was a stern follower of the rules of God.

Yet the onslaught on poor Job continued until he was about to lose his faith. Job was battling against two entities; the entity of good, God, and the entity of evil, Satan. Like Job, Young Goodman Brown tried to use his pious good graces to save him from what he considered to be the entity of evil.

He did not succeed though, since he was battling a conflict of intrinsic human evils.

A Mission of Temptation

When realizing that the traveler was on a mission of temptation, Young Goodman Brown repeatedly states how his purity would prevent him from going astray.

After the first temptation from the traveler Young Goodman Brown states,

"...I have scruples..."

After the second temptation from the traveler Young Goodman Brown uses the pious nature of his family,

"My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good christians, since the days of the Martyrs."

The traveler tempts him a third time and this time Young Goodman Brown falls upon his "faith" as a final argument of his purity.

Yet, after witnessing that evil was not an entity that follows one around and tempts one like the traveler but an inherent part of the townspeople's lives, Young Goodman Brown gives up on life.

Maybe Through Prayer

Young Goodman Brown had tried everything in his power to blind himself to the evil he encountered.

He tried to justify to himself that just because Goody and the Pastor had given into the dark side that did not mean he had to give in to evil. After this moment he began to pray,

"while he still gazed upward, into the deep arch of the firmament, and had lifted his hands to pray..."

He actually felt is if his intentions were strong until he heard the voice of his wife "Faith" mingling in with the minions of evil. Without his wife, "Faith," he was ruined.

Woodcut from the Salem Witch Trials
Woodcut from the Salem Witch Trials

Conclusion

Sometimes, it takes well written fiction to help us remember that the world is not black and white but actually more of a complex gray.

Sometimes, this is not a religious argument. Most of the time religion views things in a very black and white manner. Religion sees good as white and evil as black by personifying the qualities of each.

However, traits of good and evil are more of a gray area of human nature.

Nathaniel Hawthorne put the religious and human definitions of evil into the battlefield of the short story to build a powerful conflict. The conflict between Young Goodman Brown, who thinks he is fighting the good fight against Satan, when in reality he is just fighting against evils located within man.

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    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      4 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you joedolphin88. Jamie

    • joedolphin88 profile image

      Joe 

      4 years ago from north miami FL

      Explaining Hawthorne is no easy task. Well done and wonderful hub.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, jhamann,

      You are most-welcome. All I said to you is the truth and you deserve it. And thanks in advance for checking my hubs and commenting. I am indebted to you for life.

      Write and visit me at anytime. I am mostly at home all of the time.

      Love,

      K.

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      4 years ago from Reno NV

      Wow...kenneth avery, I am so happy to read a comment from you this morning. I remember talking about your wonderful hubs with Thomas back in the day. I will certainly stop on by and leave a comment or two. Thank you. Jamie

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hello, Jhamann,

      I loved this hub. A great read. I sincerely appreciate your sharing your wonderful writing talent with HubPages and the world. That is the mark of a classy writer.

      Voted up and all the choices. Wishing you My Best on Hubs and in life.

      I left you some fan mail and now following you.

      I would appreciate you reading one or two of my hubs, and become one of my followers.

      That would make my day.

      Sincerely,

      Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      5 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Beth Beardall. Jamie

    • profile image

      Beth Beardall 

      5 years ago

      I love Nathaniel Hawthorne's work and enjoyed your analysis of Young Goodman Brown. I find it interesting that his wife Faith, with her pretty pink ribbon in her hair, asked him not to go on his journey but to stay at home with her. Even for Faith the temptation was too great and she needed his constant vigilance. An excellent analysis of an amazing story about spiritual maturity.

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you tillsontitan. Jamie

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      6 years ago from New York

      This is certainly an original thought, writing about a short story of Nathaniel Hawthorne. He is not exactly on the best seller list though his works are classical. He writes a lot about evil and the sins of man. His most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, being a perfect example.

      I like Docmo's interpretation in his comment above. Generating good comments is a sign of a good hub ... you have certainly accomplished that.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      Thank you Docmo for stopping by to read and leave a well thought out comment. Jamie

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      6 years ago from UK

      Fascinating study of Hawthorne's fiction. I know he has used his stories to challenge preconceptions and lazy assumptions. That's always a mark of a good writer- much like yourself. Hawthorne's ancestror! John Hathorne, was a notorious Salem witch hunter. Nathaniel himself added a 'w' to his surname to distance himself from the misdeed that killed several innocents. Guilt and redemption, sin and absolution, Todd and evil are recurring themes in his works- perhaps the hangover from the puritanical surroundings of Salem, Massachussetts where he was born. This is a great observation, jhamann.

    • jhamann profile imageAUTHOR

      Jamie Lee Hamann 

      6 years ago from Reno NV

      I am glad that you enjoyed my analysis of this story and hope that you both have a wonderful evening. Jamie

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 

      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I remember reading this story, too. It was, in its own very distinctive way, a horror story.

    • mollymeadows profile image

      Mary Strain 

      6 years ago from The Shire

      Hi Jamie! This is an interesting hub I remember reading this story in college, and it does portray a certain naivete. As a Christian I would call it legalism, or the belief that your own (or others') good works can take you to heaven.

      I think the Bible may be more in agreement with Hawthorne than might at first appear; it does teach that evil is within man, although it may part company with him too, since it teaches that it is elsewhere, as well.

      I enjoyed your thoughtful treatment of this classic.

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