Symbolism in “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Symbolism in “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Symbolism in “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Available Only on StudyHippo
  • Pages: 3 (1407 words)
  • Published: June 29, 2018
Text preview

Young Goodman Brown”, a strory written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, has been popular among both readers and critics. The story is allegorical, which means that the characters and objects in the story represent abstract ideas. Hawthorne uses symbolism throughout the story and the symbols are not difficult to identify. He clearly wants them to be obvious to even the least attentive reader. Hawthorne uses the symbols to support his points while showing the moral aspects of his society, those symbols may also uncover the truth about the characters.

The story is set in the village of Salem in the time of the witch trials, in which Hawthorne’s great-great grandfather (John Hathorne) played a role as judge. It is said that „Hawthorne, for years plagued by guilt from his ancestor’s role, vindicates his grandfather by featuring two fictional victims of the witch trials who really were witches and not merely innocent victims of the witch-hunt. ” He wants to whiten his family history by presenting the hipocrisy of the society of that time. He shows that there was a lot of evil in the world and not only good.

The story of Young Goodman Brown had been interpreted and discussed by many with the use of different approaches. However there is no doubt that in order to fully understand the text, and understand the symbolism as well as discover all the implied meanings, the reader has to do the close reading with the Mythological/Archetypal approach in mind. Archetypal approach to literature is a kind of literary interpretation that considers literary works as expres

...

sions of repetative mythic patterns and structures, or of ‘timeless’ archetypes.

This kind of criticism is less interested in the specific qualities of a given work than in those features of its narrative structure or symbolism that seem to connect it to ancient myths and religions. The main key concept in Archetypal criticism is the archetype, “a symbol, character, situation, or image that evokes a deep universal response,” which entered literary criticism from Swiss psychologist Carl Jung.

According to Jung, all individuals share a “‘collective unconscious,’ a set of primal memories common to the human race, existing below each person’s conscious mind”—often deriving from primordial phenomena such as the sun, moon, fire, night, and blood, archetypes according to Jung “trigger the collective unconscious. ” Archetypal critics tend to view literary works in the broader context of works sharing a similar pattern. They focus on myths and archetypes in the narrative, symbols, images and character types in a literary work. Having this in mind we can start analysing the symbols in the story. Young Goodman Brown” tells the story of a young Puritan man from the Salem village, who decides to abandon his wife Faith for one night and set out for a journey deep into the forest. On his way there he mets an old man who happens to be the devil himself. Even though Goodman Brown is led by the evil one he still believes that he will return from the journey unharmed, because he is a good, pious and loyal man. Let by the devil he goe

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay
View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

deeper into the darkness with every single step. On his way he encounters people from his village.

Brown’s illusions about the goodness of his society are crushed when he discovers that many of his fellow townspeople, including religious leaders and his wife, are attending the meeting with the devil and the unholy ritual. At the end of the story, it is not clear whether Brown’s experience was nightmare or reality, but the results are nonetheless the same. Brown is unable to forgive the possibility of evil in his loved ones and as a result spends the rest of his life in desperate loneliness and gloom. Nathaniel Hawthorne in his short story uses many of his characters to symbolize abstract ideas and deeper meaning.

For example Young Goodman Brown’s name is used as a symbol. The author tells us that the protagonist is Young, which means that he is inexperienced, „new at life”, innocent, and naive. He is also called „Goodman” and that suggests his self-righteousness, as well as that he is a good, pious man. Furthermore “Brown” points out that he is a commoner. Therefore the full name implies that Young Goodman Brown is an average naive and self-righteous Puritan. The name of Goodman Brown’s wife is also a symbol, it reflects Brown’s faith in religion and the righteous path.

This young woman, a loving wife, portrayed as pure and good is truly concerned about her husband and his mission. She embodies the goodness that is found in a young wife. Brown’s marriage to Faith symbolizes that he clings to a faith in good in the world. When Brown marches away for his night journey, he has to leave his Faith at home. Later in the story, when Brown meets his companion in the woods, he declares, “Faith kept me back awhile”. Here, the name of Brown’s wife is used as a symbol for Brown’s personal faith in goodness.

At this point in the story, Brown’s conscious is keeping him from embracing the evil ways of his companion. His moral faith kept him from coming to the meeting on time. There is also the companion of Brown’s journey, a weird man who symbolizes the devil. We can predict his intentions and his true self when we focus on his walking staff. It is described as having “the likeness of a great black snake”. The snake “might also be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a live serpent”. The snake-like shape of the staff symbolizes the sly and treacherous character of Brown’s companion.

We can also read it as an allusion to the serpent in the Eden garden. The owner of the staff is luring Brown to do something evil, to join his side. Brown is offered the staff, but doesn’t want to hold such an instrument of evil. This refusal symbolizes Brown’s reluctance to succumb to the evil in the world. There are lots of other symbols in this story, not only the characters are symbolic but also small things like the ribbons in Faith’s hair. The ribbons are pink, and this color is obtained by mixing red and

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay