“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a short story set in seventeenth-century Puritan New England. It follows the protagonist’s journey into self-criticism and self-doubt in the context of the Puritan belief that all human beings exist in a state of depravity and that God is the one who can elevate some people over others through the unconditional election. The story remains relevant to this day because the kind of experience that the protagonist has describes the nature of human beings; however, there is a difference between people and how they react and respond to conflicts.
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Brown is the central male character, and he experiences feelings of loss and confusion when battling the Devil, whether it is real or imagined. On his journey to find the truth, the protagonist encounters uncertain situations when he faces evil with people he knows are good, and one of them is his wife, Faith, whose name is an allegory in itself. Brown said, “there is my wife, Faith. I would break her dear little heart; and I’d rather break my own” (Hawthorne, n.d., p. 3). The choice of his wife’s name has a specific intention: it illustrates the juxtaposition between the figurative faith that the protagonist has for God and the faith in people.
While Faith is described as sweet and pretty, a “blessed angel on earth,” the protagonist, who is a man, realizes that women are not ‘saints’ (Hawthorne, n.d., p. 1). Throughout the story, the image of women attains a negative connotation as they are seen as manipulative. They are said to make men think of them as their faith and salvation of all the negative things in the world. The name Faith is ironically chosen to illustrate the maliciousness of women, which is often unseen. By saying, “Faith is gone,” Brown means that both his wife as a person and faith in women are gone (Hawthorne, n.d., p. 6). In addition, the author proceeds to illustrate women as weak in nature and dependent on men, thus reinforcing the stereotypical roles of the opposite genders. Faith is said to have been cheerful and pretty, simple in manner, and domestic, which puts her in the biased bracket of women only being useful when they look happy, do not think critically and are helpful around the household. Such a dogmatic description aligns with the Puritanical view of the world – women must rely on their men and must abide by the rules. Otherwise, any faith in their goodness will have vanished, and they will be deemed manipulative. The author intentionally blows the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ qualities of women out of proportion to show how rigid society has been when it comes to gender roles.
In “Young Goodman Brown,” the view of women, men, gender norms, and the traits of femininity align with the patriarchal agenda in which the role of women is negated at worst and minimized at best. Due to the religious component that is embedded in the storyline, women are likened to sin, evil, or in the protagonist’s case, to Devil. In its essence, the Puritanical religion is patriarchal as it elevates the power and authority of one man who can make decisions on behalf of people. Therefore, the portrayal of women in the short story is intentionally negative as the author highlights the social inequalities to be solved in the future.
Hawthorne, N. (n.d.). Young Goodman Brown. Web.