The Characters’ Allegorical Role in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”
Nathaniel Hawthorne delivers in “Young Goodman Brown” an allegorical depiction of the fall of mankind, the “fall of Adam through the temptation of Eve” (Becker 16). Hawthorne’s realization, the deep and powerful allegorical nature of the story is intense not just because of the action, nor the setting, but because of the well-built, symbolic and accurate characters. With the thoughtful building and the biblically accurate features of the key characters, the allegory is profound and understandable. The main characters, the old man, Goodman Brown and Faith have their own biblical counterparts. The old man appears as the cunning, powerful and canny devil. This resemblance extends on both physical and moral traits: the old man’s appearance and staff, his intentions and moral characteristics portray the devil himself. Goodman Brown serves as the curious, naive and overreaching Eve. The protagonist’s naivety and weakness, the fact that he is willing to visit the forest despite of being aware of the journey’s dire and inevitable ending makes him the story’s Eve. The narrative’s important female character, Faith, solidifies herself as the faithful and stable Adam. Faith’s name, attitude and moral traits, her ability to resist temptation as long as possible, makes her able to be viewed as Adam. Hawthorne manages to create an emphatic allegory in “Young Goodman Brown” in which he precisely builds up every significant detail of his characters, as they accurately correspond with their biblical counterparts, in order to ultimately achieve his goal, to present the fall of man.
2. The Old Man as the Devil
Hawthorne’s primary elements used to deepen and to emphasize the allegorical nature of the story are the main characters. In “Young Goodman Brown” the fall of man is clearly understandable by the precise portrayal of the old man. His depiction explicitly suggests that he is the devil himself. Richard Fogle, a specialist in nineteenth-century American Romanticism, also believes that “this man is, of course, the Devil” (17). The old man’s physical characteristics, his intentions and statements collectively provide the easily perceptible, uncanny resemblance with the devil. Firstly, the old man’s external qualities point to the fact that he is the devil himself. When Goodman Brown first meets him, he appears as an ordinary man in decent clothes and he is similar to any other man from Salem village. Furthermore, he even possesses characteristics that resemble Brown’s. John Hale affirms that the old man is “a likeness or part or ancestor of Brown himself” (17). To further emphasize the old man’s unmistakable parallel to the devil, Hawthorne introduces the staff which is similar to “great black snake” (1035). The staff is not just a reference to the devil’s snake form temptation in the Garden of Eden, but it is a source of wickedness and “it typifies deformity, evil” (Hale 18). During the journey, the staff serves as the main device of temptation and control, and according to Hale, it “suggests power” (18). With it, the devil manages to control the doubtful Brown in order to continue their travel, and he even tempts him to touch the diabolic staff. Secondly, the old man’s intentions prove his diabolical nature. The devil’s purpose is clear, as his aim is to corrupt and to lead Brown to sin, just as he tainted his grandfather by helping in lashing a Quaker woman and depraved his father by bringing a pitch-pine knot to set fire to an Indian village (Hawthorne 1036). Fogle believes that the old man “progressively undermines the young man’s faith in the institutions and the men whom he has heretofore revered” (17). Therefore, the old man’s purpose is exactly the same as the devil’s aim during the temptation of Eve, which is to lead to sin and to corrupt what is good. In conclusion, by providing the old man with physical and moral...
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