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“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne Analysis

Young Goodman Brown is among the best-known stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in large part because of its in-depth exploration of religion. It tells the story of a young man who leaves his wife, Faith, for a night and meets with the devil, is then convinced by him to attend a satanic gathering and finds her there. Seeing every notable community member, including the Christian leaders there, he is almost persuaded to join the group but resists at the last moment. He awakens in town the next morning with a newfound distrust for everyone he knows. Through the use of allegory, Hawthorne criticizes religious puritanism in the story.

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The revelation that Brown experiences, one that highlights the hidden satanic nature of his parents and neighbors, can be compared to a child’s loss of innocence. At some point, every teenager or adult will realize that perfection is impossible, and everyone has faults that they would rather not expose to the world. Most people accept that fact, perhaps after an internal struggle, recognize that they are no better than their peers, and continue interacting with them normally. However, Brown sees himself as the sole paragon of virtue in a sea of people that are either corrupt or clueless, such as children. The implication, found in the ending, that the entire story may have been Brown’s dream reinforces this view.

The name of Brown’s wife is also significant, as it can be seen as a reference to his Christianity. As he is bound to Faith by love and marriage, he is also tied to his faith by belief and the baptism rite. Hawthorne confirms that the allegory is intentional through the usage of words that suit the second meaning more than the first in the story, such as “quit my dear Faith” (4). When Brown rejects the devil, he cannot see if Faith has done so as well, and, as a result, he cannot trust her. Ironically, by clinging to his faith, he loses his attachment to Faith.

The story up until this point may be interpreted as one man’s heroic tale of belief and moral principles overcoming social pressure to succumb to sin. However, Hawthorne characterizes Brown after the experience as “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man” (10). Aware of (or paranoid about, in the dream interpretation) the sins that pervade the town but unable to see it in others’ actions, the goodman is unable to trust anyone. He cannot find refuge in religion, concentrating on the minister’s sinfulness rather than the divine communion. Brown’s obstinacy has brought him nothing but misery, and his moment of belief was futile.

The message of the short story is that neither extreme of belief is desirable, as both lead to negativity. The devil worshipers are presumably evil people, though they may not have existed. Instead, Brown’s zealotry may have created distorted images of sin based on perceived faults. As a result, he was unable to stay virtuous and spent his life in misery, perpetually suspecting others of impurity. Unable to discern between the sinful and the pure, he may have been a danger to society had he possessed power. While giving in to sin is undesirable and dangerous, so is excessive fervor in eradicating it.

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Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. 2020. Web. 

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne Analysis." April 12, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/young-goodman-brown-by-nathaniel-hawthorne-analysis/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) '“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne Analysis'. 12 April.

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