Symbols in Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a short story about a young Puritan who visits the woods and finds that a large majority of the villagers of Salem are part of a witch cult that meets in the deep woods at night. The first layer of this story reflects the hysteria surrounding the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, of which one of the magistrates and the interrogator was Justice John Hathorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s great-great-grandfather. Hawthorne’s story is an exploration of evil, especially the evil that lurks within humanity. Hawthorne’s use of allegory is to reveal that for every good thing there is an opposite, a bad thing human or not human. Hawthorne uses three different types of symbols in his story: Biblical symbols, Christian symbols, and otherwise uncategorized symbols.

Nathaniel Hawthorne with his strict Puritan background and family relies heavily on Biblical symbols in this story, especially since his main character, Goodman Brown, is Puritan. Goodman Brown meets a dark clad, unnamed man in the woods who carried with him a staff. This staff has carved on it a snake, “great black snake….it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.” (Paragraph 13) In the Old Testament, there are many references to a snake: in Genesis the snake that spoke to Eve and led her into temptation, in Exodus Moses’s staff that turns in to a serpent and consumes the staffs-that were also serpents-of the Egyptian magicians. The staff represents the Devil, who in this story is not a figure of fantasy, but actually character. The devil is literally the devil, but also represents the devil that resides in everyone, whether admitted or not. Goodman Brown describes the woods as the “wilderness” (Paragraph 27). The book of Numbers chronicles the Israelites wonderings through the wilderness for forty years as punishment for their sins. The witches and warlocks are compelled to meet in the woods in order to maintain secrecy. The wilderness is...
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