How Might Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Puritan Ancestry and Background Influence a Story Like “Young Goodman Brown”?
316) is a short story with strong Puritan influence. Puritanism is a religion demanding strict moral conduct and strong faith. Puritans held that Christians should do only what the Bible commanded. Analyzing “Young Goodman Brown” is dependant upon understanding the Puritan faith. 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.
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.
Temptation in “Young Goodman Brown” is represented in the moment when Brown travels into the forest defiantly just as Eve ate from the tree of life. Just like Eve, Brown is in search of knowledge, which Satan uses to lure people away. Once tainted by her sins, Eve felt the need to cover herself from the shame that ensued. The same way, shame affects Young Goodman Brown; as he enters deep into his journey, Brown tells the elder that his ancestors would never travel on such an unthinkable errand. In response, the elder replies, “I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that’s no trifle to say” (Hawthorne 18). The elder goes on to describe the evil doings of Brown’s father and grandfather. The shame that Brown feels is enough to convince him to continue on the journey even though he is sure his actions violate his Puritan faith. 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.