March 6, 2007
Carnival of Mirrors: The Many Layers of Young Goodman Brown
"Young Goodman Brown" is an allegorical story of the confrontation with evil and test of faith. Various readings of the story shine light on the complexity of themes and lessons that may be learned from the tale, further enriching its complexity. A psychoanalytical reading reveals how Goodman Brown's various encounters represent various aspects of his psyche and the inevitability of that confrontation. This is further enhanced by the sociological implications of his encounter with the townspeople at the black mass. Furthermore, Goodman Brown's mirroring in the devil illustrates the descent into evil and the point at which no man can ever return. A postcolonial essay reveals how the story draws from real life historical events that resulted from the Puritan movement, allowing the reader to explore Hawthorne's possible ambivalence towards his ancestors. Moreover, each of these readings allow for a richer, more vivid reading of the tale.
Many of the mysterious and most compelling aspects of "Young Goodman Brown" cannot be explored without understanding the psychological complexity of the story. Rita K. Gollins affirms the psychoanalytical aspect of the tale when she states, "Young Goodman Brown' is the story of a literal journey into the forest, yet Hawthorne has so contrived the journey that it must also be read as a journey into the self, into the interior world of dreams." Goodman's tenuous state of faith is represented by Goodman Brown's wife, who urges him not to leave for the night for reasons that are cryptic and mysterious. Like "a blessed angel on earth,"she whispers in her husband's ear her fears about his departure, symbolizing the misgivings of his inner consciousness. Goodman hesitates about his decision as he ponders whether or not he should have left her, but decides to push on, concluding, "after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven." This reveal that Goodman does indeed have a sense that he is about to confront something undesirable, yet his insistence on going suggests that the human confrontation with evil is inevitable.
Unfortunately, the reader soon finds that Goodman's descent into the forest will offer no such opportunity to be reunited with Faith. The forest itself represents a descent into evil and the temptation of a purportedly pious man, yet Faith's pink ribbons suggests hope for redemption that Goodman fails to discover. As he pushes into the forest, the scenery is dark and ominous, foreboding the "evil purpose" he is about to undertake that the reader does not yet know of. The tone of the tale becomes gothic, similar to the gloomy underworld of Edgar Allen Poe, as the landscape of his travels becomes more frightening and bleak.
In this sense, Goodman is accessing uncharted aspects of his consciousness as he descends into the unknown. Yet it isn't the confrontation with evil that leads to Goodman Brown's failure, but his inability to ever have faith in his heart after having witnessed sin. This is represented by the sermon given in the black mass: "Far more than this! It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than human power--than my power at its utmost!--can make manifest in deeds. And now, my children, look upon each other." Yet Goodman Brown cannot be blamed for his encounter with evil; as was mentioned earlier, such temptation is inevitable during the course of life. What he can be blamed for, however, is his inability to return back to Faith. However, it is likely that the Puritan's negative views of human nature invite such cynicism and gloom regarding the nature of sin and temptation.
Goodman Brown's physical appearance is significant to his characterization. The devil serves as a psychological mirror to reveal...
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