Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Alright, this is one of the assigned stories in a class I’m teaching this winter.

Something that I think needs to be mentioned is that the entire story is also an allegory – in other words, everything means something beyond what it says it is.

Faith = faith

Man in Long Black Coat = Devil

Of course, the forest also means something, as does each and every person Young Goodman Brown (YGB) encounters. The Deacon stands for something, Goodie Cloyse stands for something, the Minister stands for something. They all mean more than just, “Hey, these folks are in league with the devil.” ‘ Another thing: is everyone sure of what the story is actually saying? It reads as if YGB has went into the forest, was tempted, but resisted and then shunned all of his neighbors as horrible sinners condemned to Hell and he lived a miserable life because of it. But is that really what happened? I would draw everyone’s attention to page 364. About halfway down there is a paragraph that begins: “There,” resumed the sable form, “are all whom ye have reverenced from youth.” Re-read that paragraph real quick. What’s the devil saying here? He goes through and lists how all of these different people have sinner, and that takes up the biggest chunk of the paragraph. ut look at the last few lines. It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts… Is that not what YGB suffers from after he leaves the forest? Everywhere he goes, he sees people as sinners. He no longer sees the people. He only perceives the sin. And then does this little phrase gain a double meaning? Not only is it the curse that YGB lives with, but is it also not a sin then in and of itself? Is this at the heart of what Hawthorne is saying in Young Goodman Brown? That divorcing the intellect from the heart (as YGB no longer feels any sort of compassion – or emotion from the heart – for anyone in his town or life), that coldly judging others is the “fountain of all wicked arts?” YGB penetrates this mystery by becoming it.

*alright,this has been sitting in my draft pile for ages. I, frankly, don’t feel like adding anything more to it, though more can be said. At this point, I’d rather just get it up and move on.


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