Young Goodman Brown Good and Evil in Humanity Essay

Pages: 5 (1650 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Literature

Young Goodman Brown dies "sad," "distrustful," "desperate" and the like (Hawthorne 8) in Nathaniel Hawthorne's story by that name. On the surface, this seems like a reflection and indictment of the hypocrisy of those around him. The narrator describes a prominent minister as a "gray blasphemer" (Hawthorne 8) just prior to that, and the main character spends the previous eight pages convincing himself many of the most prominent people in the community were in league with the devil. His actions, however, indicate the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" did not in fact give up entirely on the possibility of getting into heaven after death by acting righteously during life, although the story seems to indicate so on the surface, and many published reviews argue or assume that conclusion. Hawthorne seems to have left ambiguity in "Young Goodman Brown" on purpose as some authors assert (for example Bidney, 85, or Toker, 25), and therefore the theme of humanity's instinctive, essential sinfulness and the ramifications of that if true become the core question the character struggles with. Had Brown truly become convinced all humans were inevitably doomed, however, he would never have tried to save the little girl from Goody Cloyse. Likewise generating a family with Faith would constitute a deliberate sin if they were all doomed to "despair" (Hawthorne, 7).Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Essay on Young Goodman Brown Good and Evil in Humanity Assignment

Young Goodman Brown deliberately sets out to test his own faith, and finds that challenge nearly too much for his normal sanity to bear. The result is an hallucinatory vision of the people he previously though were virtuous consorting with the fallen. Together they recruit him and his young wife to join them in sinfulness. Hawthorne cuts off the hallucinatory scene of demonic baptism with Brown still attempting to resist (Hawthorne, 7). This has caused debate about the ramifications of his choice ever since. Martin Bidney refers to over 400 peer-reviewed papers by 1976 arguing whether or not the character Brown was "good," "evil," "mature" or projecting his own self-loathing onto those around him (Bidney, 89). Many authors see this as a reflection on popular values at that time, specifically as an indictment of the residents of Salem, Massachusetts (Walsh, 88). Hawthorne mentions Salem by name seven times including specific landmarks, and extends direct personal reference to include residents of the region at that time and through the prior history of settlement before. Conor Walsh argues this traces Hawthorne's indictment of hypocrisy back through Salem's name to Jerusalem, which, as the center of several major world religions, thus extends the allegory to include religion in general (Walsh, 84). "As something of an everyman of Salem, Brown symbolizes the communal loss of faith," Walsh's argument goes, "or, perhaps more broadly, the communal neglect of God's commandments" (Walsh, 84). In the Old Testament, numerous prophets criticized the citizens for just the same type of faithlessness (Walsh, 85) that Hawthorne points out in "Young Goodman Browne." Walsh describes a critical debate about exactly which religion Hawthorne himself subscribed to (Walsh, ix), citing various sources claiming Hawthorne subscribed to a list of doctrines or no particular religious creed at all (Walsh, ix), although many authors have tried to attribute him one to support biased claims.

These ambiguities and the uncertainties suggested by these debates support a broader criticism that Leona Toker submits really masked "suppressed resentment against the pillars of his community" (Toker, 25), which she attributes to the character Goodman Browne, not Hawthorne himself. The criticisms leveled by the character on his journey indeed include Brown's own ancestors; in fact the great majority of narrative deals with the main character's relationship to those around him. The greater part of speech and reflection attributed to Brown is similarly devoted to the character's perception of his place in relation to contemporaries he compares his moral standards against. What he discovers is "[p]oor little [f]aith" (Hawthorne 1), but nearly universal participation in sinfulness. Young Goodman Brown judges the virtue of those he previously considered devout, only to find all of them polluted by worldly sinfulness. This criticism potentially includes his wife, although that question too is left deliberately unanswered, through Hawthorne's device of stopping the hallucination immediately before revealing whether Brown and Faith consent to baptism into the demonic group (Hawthorne, 7).

If the story is allegorical, then the reader may derive the moral as proposing unavoidable human sinfulness, or choose Brown's apparent conclusion that virtue is possible, but only at the price of difficult isolation. Pointing out "there was a world of meaning in this simple statement" (Hawthorne 3) seems to authorize such conclusion-drawing. Therefore a major ambiguity the narrator leaves unanswered is whether or not the character becomes convinced of his own inescapable sinfulness, or if righteous behavior could still get Brown into Heaven. If Brown became suspicious because he retained his moral superiority after he became convinced everyone else around him was essentially damned, then that would explain a harried life of desperation and suspicion after his fateful vision. Toker argues that even were this a "projection of his own suppressed drives" (Toker, 33), his resulting alienation would still indicate the character held himself above the corruption he condemned in the rest. Had Brown accepted sinfulness as unavoidable, there would be no reason for such alienation or moral superiority in the first place. There could be other reasons for his suspicious gloom, but given the relative number of lines devoted to morality and the character's struggle to classify others as essentially good or corrupt, exploring other reasons would constitute adding material to what was actually on the page. The question remains unanswered, however, whether Brown believes his vision or not. What then if he does? What would be the ramifications of either choice?

The problem with accepting the superficial reading that Brown accepted inevitable human sinfulness is that had the character believed redemption was not possible, there would be no need to be alienated, nor to save the little girl from Goody Cloyse (Hawthorne 7). Had Brown truly believed the little girl was doomed beyond redemption, there would be no reason to snatch her away; Brown would simply have accepted her eventual corruption and left her to the fiendish Cloyse. Likewise had Brown fully accepted the sinfulness of everyone else, then his fathering an extended family would have been a deliberate act of increasing human sinfulness, and adding 'fuel to the fire' of the satanic hordes. Therefore unless the character retained some amount of faith that human redemption was possible, then reproducing an extended family would constitute a willful act of sin. If deliberately sinning by having a family made Brown's own redemption impossible, then alienation and suspicion would be unnecessary. Brown still might be gloomy about going to hell sooner every day as he aged toward death, but there would be no grounds for suspicion or passing judgment on others. This rationale can be arrived at without ever having to evaluate subjective terms like 'good,' 'evil' or 'moral,' but simply from the character's behavior and literal speech as he progresses between sanity to bewilderment and back.

The result is that instead of taking lines like "[e]vil is the nature of mankind" (Hawthorne, 7) literally, an allegorical reading shows just the opposite. Not everyone is condemned to inevitable sinfulness, Hawthorne seems to be proposing, or else Young Goodman Brown would have abandoned the little girl to the hypocritical preaching of Goody Cloyse, or not had a family if that would have just been increasing the level of sin in the world. Instead, even though Brown died gloomy and suspicious, this was actually a sign that he truly did not believe salvation was impossible, i.e. still had hope that righteous behavior would be rewarded after death. If the story is not allegorical, then there is no way to infer how the values… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Young Goodman Brown Good and Evil in Humanity.  (2012, May 7).  Retrieved February 28, 2020, from

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"Young Goodman Brown Good and Evil in Humanity."  7 May 2012.  Web.  28 February 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"Young Goodman Brown Good and Evil in Humanity."  May 7, 2012.  Accessed February 28, 2020.