Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown illustrates vividly how society and culture can very much influence a person's sense of identity and belonging, or in the case of Young Goodman Brown the lack thereof. Being a Puritan man in a society that scorned the ways of witches and the devil, Young Goodman Brown grew up with a very pious outlook on life. Yet when it occurs to him to look at life a little bit differently, Young Goodman Brown receives more than he has bargained for. The journey he embarks on sheds a whole new light on his society that not only creates a struggle between himself and his fellow men but also one within himself.
From the beginning of Hawthorne's story a test of faith prevails. From the moment that Young Goodman Brown parts with his wife, Faith, to when they meet again at the heart of the forest, the very manner Young Goodman Brown has been taught his entire life is at stake. Yet it is not so much Goodman Brown's faith in God that is the concern but whether or not Goodman Brown feels he can trust anyone or anything he has ever come to know and believe in. Society has preconditioned him to think a certain way, thus through this journey Young Goodman Brown cannot deal with the new Puritan life he witnesses. Since he is unsure of what his society is truly like Goodman Brown is now incapable of knowing his place in society and knowing whom he really is.
In an article entitled "Cultural Fate and Social Freedom in Three American Stories" Walter Shear discusses how Young Goodman Brown "swings out of time, paradoxically and almost deliriously senses his power, and then moves abruptly back to contemplate his cultural fate". It is up to Goodman Brown if, upon his return to his home, he will live "with a resigned contentment at his place in the world or with an irreconcilable bitterness at his powerlessness" (548). Young Goodman Brown goes into the forest at first with only a small expectation of what he is going to experience. Of his...
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