Nathaniel Hawthorne was a nineteenth-century American writer of the Romantic Movement. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, he was one of those rare writers who drew critical acclaim during his lifetime. Hawthorne used Salem as a setting for most of his stories, such as The Scarlet Letter, The Blithedale Romance, and "Young Goodman Brown". Today, readers still appreciate Hawthorne's work for its storytelling qualities and for the moral and theological questions it raises. Nathaniel Hawthorne's work is typically fraught with symbolism, much of it deriving from his Puritan ancestry; relatives of his were judges in the Salem witchcraft trials. "Young Goodman Brown" is an allegory whose characters play a major role in conveying the reoccurring theme of sin and retribution. The short story represents one man's journey to leave his faith, home, and security temporarily behind to take a walk with the devil into a dark forest.
The forest is a symbol of the test of strength, courage, and endurance. Aside from "Young Goodman Brown," forests carrying a negative or challenging connotation have been featured in other stories. For example, in the folk tale The "Three Bears", Goldilocks encounters the cottage of the three bears in a forest; in Hansel and Gretel, the children's father takes them off into the forest to abandon them and they have to find their way back out; in Red Riding Hood, the little girl has to travel through the forest to her grandmother's house. There has always been an association between forests and evil because of its dark and gloomy nature. The forest further goes on to represent evil in "Young Goodman Brown" because Faith asks Goodman Brown not to go into the forest on his mysterious errand. What is his errand? Hawthorne never says, but clearly Goodman Brown has planned for it. He knows that the aim of his journey is less than wholesome, for he feels guilty at leaving Faith on such an errand (1264). Despite Faiths protest, Brown goes on...
Cited: The Bible. 2nd ed. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1953.
Martin, Terence. "Young Goodman Brown." Nathaniel Hawthorne. 1st ed. New York: Twayne P, 1965. 90-99.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed, Nina Baym. 6th ed. 2003 1263-1272.
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