Young Goodman Brown: Characters

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Young Goodman Brown: Characters

Introduction

“Young Goodman Brown” is a short story by the American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story made its first appearance in the New England Magazine for April 1835 and was collected in Mosses from an Old Manse in 1846. The story is set in the Puritan New England, a common setting for Hawthorne's works, and like most of the stories in Mosses, “Young Goodman Brown” examines Hawthorne’s favorite themes: the loss of religious faith, presence of temptation, and social ills of Puritan communities. These themes, along with the story’s dark, surreal ending, make “Young Goodman Brown” one of the Hawthorne’s most popular short stories. In order to understand “Young Goodman Brown” we must, like the author himself go back some four hundred years into to the past, to the 17th century, in the time of the Puritans. In this story Hawthorne references three dark events from the Puritans’ history: the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the Puritan intolerance of the Quakers, and King Philip’s War. It is necessary to point out the main characteristics and beliefs of the Puritan teachings for the better understanding of the society to which the protagonist belongs to. Puritan culture emphasized the need for introspection and the strict accounting for one’s feelings as well as one’s deeds. They believed in the conversion experience, an epiphany, which signified that a person was chosen to be among God's elect, and this belief was the center of evangelical experience. The Puritan theology rested primarily upon the doctrine of predestination and the inefficaciousness of good works; it separated men sharply and certainly into two groups, the saved and the damned, and, technically, at least, was not concerned with any subtler shadings. The words of the Bible, as they interpreted them, were the origin of many Puritan cultural ideals, especially regarding the roles of men and women in the community. According to this teaching both sexes were sinful for they carried the stain of primeval sin, the sins of Adam and Eve, which in Puritan eyes, extended to whole humanity. The Puritan church insisted that its congregants lead godly lives and exhibit a clear understanding of the main principles of their Christian faith, and they also had to demonstrate that they had experienced true evidence of the workings of God’s grace in their souls. Only those who gave a convincing account of such an epiphany could be admitted to full church membership, and could have been called God's elect. Order in the family fundamentally structured Puritan belief. Authority and obedience were the main characteristics which constituted the relationship between Puritan parents and their children. The historical events in the story are not central, but they inform the action. Hawthorne was very much interested in them, and while researching the local history of New England he made a very important discovery. His 17th century ancestors from his father's side were important political and religious leaders of Salem. “Young Goodman Brown” was influenced by this Puritan heritage. Hawthorne looked on his ancestors both with a sense of pride as well as guilt. They were the source of his pride because they belonged to a prominent and accomplished generation, but he also felt ashamed because they took part in witch trials and were very intolerant towards the Quakers. In “Young Goodman Brown” the devil tells Brown that “I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly” (Hawthorne 17). With this story the author is criticizing the monstrous witch trials and inflexible Puritan doctrine of the 17th century. Apart from its historical context in “Young Goodman Brown”, some critics consider that it was also influenced by his personality which in the time this story was written had already acquired a somewhat skeptical look on life, full of dualities; and these mental and moral beliefs are revealed in the story...
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