“Young Goodman Brown”
I. Ambiguity of plot and setting
A. “Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch meeting?”
1. Yes, the whole experience was a nightmare induced in him by his own and/or his society’s pre-occupation with evil and with sin. 2. No, he was guilty of keeping an appointment with the devil and all events are literal.
3. No, what he actually saw and heard were delusions of the devil.
4. No, he had not slept but had experienced hysterical hallucinations, the products of his own obsessive concern with sin and marital fidelity.
B. The question demands an answer.
1. The narrator’s question rests on much more than the fact that he asks it.
2. The nature of the question is implied throughout a story which asks, “Is there a natural (as opposed to supernatural) explanation for what Brown underwent?”
3. Such ambiguities of natural/supernatural conflicts are characteristic of Hawthorne:
a) “The Minister’s Black Veil”
b) The Scarlet Letter (e.g., the flaming “A” in the sky and the scarlet “A” on Dimmesdale’s chest)
I. Technical ambiguities
A. Point of view
1. The story is almost entirely told from a limited omniscient point of view (Brown’s perceptions), and it is so limited that it is impossible for a reader to discriminate fact from Brown’s imagination.
2. At several points in the story, the point of view expands to include an authorial voice, but this voice editorializes further ambiguity.
a) Words and phrases
1) “as it were”
2) “as if”
3) “some affirm that”
4) “must have been an ocular deception”
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