Characterization and Allegory in "Young Goodman Brown"

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Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" can be a very complicated read. One who simply reads this short story without any further insight would not grasp the idea of the story. With understanding of the characterization and allegory used in it, one can find this story's true meaning and they can take into their mind lots of new ideas from reading it. This is because comprehension of these two elements allow deeper insight into the real meaning of the story.

An important element in "Young Goodman Brown" is characterization. One who reads this story can clearly see the drastic difference between Goodman Brown and the character portrayed as the devil. While the devil remains consistent in his attempts to get Goodman Brown to join his sinful ways, Goodman Brown wavers in his actions and thoughts as his mind fights between what is good and bad.

Although Hawthorne uses stock characters, it does not take away from the story. Using the Puritans as characters actually gives one a better idea of what should be expected from them. Puritans are known to be very religious. They are also known to constantly seek purity, hence their name (Murray). Also, Martha Carrier is referenced in this story (Hawthorne 308). Martha Carrier is well known as someone who was considered a witch during the Salem Witch Trials. Using her as someone Goodman Brown sees in the woods reinforces the idea that everyone there has turned evil.

A great deal of the characterization in this story is done indirectly. You learn about Goodman Brown through his reactions to the extreme situation he is in. As a Puritan, this run-in with the devil makes him question his entire life because religion is his life. It is seen that Goodman Brown is a developing character. When he comes back from his adventure in the forest, his whole way of thinking is altered. He no longer trusts anyone around him. He realizes that all the prominent figures in his church are not so godly and maybe his religion is not as perfect as he thought it was. This is obviously devastating to Goodman Brown. During the remainder of the story, Goodman Brown finds that he can trust nobody. He does not really talk to anyone including his wife because all he can see in them is impureness. He mostly just keeps to himself, feeling depressed and letdown. He continues on like this until his eventual death, which is probably a death caused by heartbreak. This is a very indeterminate ending and it leaves much to infer as does rest of the story.

With this understanding of character, one can begin to look at other elements of the story, including allegory. In this story, allegory was determined by use of symbols. First of all, the setting was symbolic. Forests often signify darkness, evil, the unknown, danger, and things of the like. Another symbol in this story are the pink ribbons on Faith's cap (Hawthorne 299). These ribbons are mentioned on more than one occasion, stressing importance of something in the story. One has to really read into the ribbons to figure why they are important. It is not a coincidence that these ribbons are pink. White usually expresses innocence and purity, while red usually expresses sin and ideas from the devil. Combinations of these two colors produce pink making one realize that Faith is not perfect. She stands somewhere in between. A blatantly obvious symbol would be Faith's name. Toward the end of the story, Goodman Brown calls out to Faith (Hawthorne 309). This has a double meaning. He is not only calling out to his wife, but also to his own faith.

All of these symbols employ allegory. If one does not look into these symbols, they would simply see a story about a man who went out into a forest, had a talk with another man, saw some people he knew and returned home to his wife. With all of these symbols in mind, one would be able to realize there is an underlying plot to this story. That story being that Goodman Brown goes out to a hell-like place, where he runs into...
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