How Might Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Puritan Ancestry and Background Influence a Story Like “Young Goodman Brown”?
The influence of the Puritan religion is vivid in literary elements such as setting, allegory, and theme. The primary setting of “Young Goodman Brown” is the forest.
The novel also has a more modern lesson because being overly critical of others is a problem that has always plagued humanity. This is part of the reason why The Scarlet Letter is such an important work of American literature as its comments on a harsh society are still fairly relevant. In addition to his many novels, Hawthorne wrote many short stories like “The Minister's Black Veil.” Published in 1836, “The Minister's Black Veil” is about a minister named Reverend Hooper who begins to wear a black veil over his face. He has his Puritan faith, which he earnestly cherishes, and guards, the love of his wife, ‘Faith,’ whom he adores, and his ancestral upbringing, the deep-seated principles enshrined in Puritanism. These three elemental things help Goodman to navigate between good and evil; they form the platform from which Goodman decides his fate. As Brown faces the devil’s temptation, people easily persuade him to abandon what once grounded him, Puritanism. The Puritan values of the 1600s as well as the people’s openness to mystical ideas defined good and evil and influenced some Puritans to question the truth and abandon their faith just like Eve of the bible who challenged God’s truth before leaving it under the wiles of the snake, the devil.
In the biblical context of Adam and Eve, the end to their innocence and abandonment of trust underscored their punishment. Initially, Adam and Eve were to enjoy life in the Garden of Eden without toiling; however, after sinning, the punishment was upon them whereby, Adam was to work for food while Eve was to experience labor pain in giving birth. In the case of Young Goodman Brown, punishment is in the death of his soul; he too has to live a life filled with doubt and uncertainty. “Often, waking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer; he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away” (Hawthorne 23.)
The conclusion is reached that all humans must have some form of sin, whether it be it the form of selfishness, passion, or any other manner, and that most people try to conceal these sins in order to appear perfect. Hawthorne also believes that sin can often times be so small that it goes unnoticed, yet it impacts the entirety of the sinner’s life. Many other similarities, besides the persistent theme of evil and sin, can be observed in Hawthorne’s works, yet this theme seems to be perhaps the most common and most apparent topic throughout his writings.
Mellow, James R. Hawthorne in His Times. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980.
Modugno, Joseph. “The Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692 and “Young Goodman Brown.” Hawthorne in Salem, Web.
New International Version. The Holy Bible. New York: Harper, 1983.
Stavely, Keith. “Puritan Legacies: Paradise Lost and the New England Tradition, 1630–1890.” Journal of American Studies 22.3 (1988): 490-496.