12 February 2013
In his narratives, “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and The Birth-Mark, Nathaniel Hawthorne writes in response to the changes occurring around him and confronts his Puritan past. Hawthorne’s style of writing typically includes a theme of a character’s isolation from the distortion of truth or a self-willed construction of an artificial reality; therefore, this character endures a process of self-destruction or the destruction of his or her community. There are multiple examples of isolation, distortion of truth, alienation, and the resulting consequences in “The Minister’s Black Veil,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and The Birth-Mark that are left up to the audience to interpret.
In Hawthorne’s accounts, his protagonist, or main character, consistently has an isolated period of their life that is the focus of Hawthorne’s writing. Whether the character endures isolation from religion, community, or the world, there is always a conspicuous message of seclusion. In “Young Goodman Brown” the main character, Goodman Brown, has a significant encounter with the Devil. Brown is convinced that his family members are not generally good people, and they are actually servants of the Devil. This encounter fosters the isolation from religion that Goodman Brown comes into; in fact, Hawthorne writes a monologue in which the Devil truly pushes Goodman Brown over the edge of doubt and into the black hole of disbelief. “‘Lo! There ye stand, my children,’ said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad, with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race, ‘Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped, that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived! Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome, again, my children, to the communion of your race,’” (613). In this, the Devil persuades Brown to believe that the true nature of humanity is not good, but that people are evil and only sometimes, by chance, manage to do good things. Going against his original beliefs, Brown turns away from his religion and begins to doubt almost everything he has ever known. In Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil”, he doesn’t isolate the main character from religion, but from his community and the outside world. Mr. Hooper adorns a black veil separating him, literally and metaphorically, from any other that tries to come in contact with him. Even in Hooper’s death, Hawthorne shows that he is still separated by the black veil, “The grass of many years has sprung up and withered on that grave, the burial-stone is moss-grown, and good Mr. Hooper’s face is dust; but awful is still the thought, that it moldered beneath the black veil,” (631). Hooper’s veil creates great confusion among his community, as well as in the reader’s mind. Hawthorne seeks to communicate the thought that in life, all people wear a “black veil” of sorts that shields us from the truth. Everyone asserts some sort of barrier between him or herself and the real world because, in reality, the direct truth is obliterating. In short, no matter how, or from what, Hawthorne consistently uses isolation of a chief character as a main theme in his writing; however, he leaves interpretation open to the reader. By doing so, he ventures to say that one’s interpretation directly relates to their character. Hawthorne goes further to leave open-ended interpretation to the recurring matter of the distortion of truth and alienation in his tales.
The people and communities that Hawthorne writes about typically have a skewed concept of reality and are often gradually shut out from the outside world. For example, in “Young Goodman Brown”, after Brown is convinced to abandon his religion, he begins to alienate himself because he believes all people are evil and he wants to preserve his morality. Hawthorne describes Brown’s...