Irony, Symbolism, and Imagery in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"
Nathaniel Hawthorne, well known for his attacks on outlandish Puritan ideology in The Scarlet Letter, has always incorporated some aspect of his life and beliefs into his works. Once again, he has successfully conveyed a strong moral concept by utilizing various literary techniques to reveal a disturbing outlook into a man's soul. In "Young Goodman Brown," Nathaniel Hawthorne uses strong symbolism, irony, and imagery to illustrate the theme of man as one attempting to escape from evil; oblivious to the fact that sin is an escapable part of human nature. In the story, the reader is guided through Goodman Brow ...view middle of the document...
Ironically, this idealistic (but not as convenient) pact will lead to Brown's eventual downfall when he will no longer look at his wife with the same faith when he finally returns at dawn. Furthermore, this ambitious promise also reflects how Goodman Brown feels he can do something evil and still go back to his "pure" ways and beliefs – not the case as Brown will later see.
Images of gloom and evil twist through the reader's mind as Brown takes "a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest" to finally meet the Devil, known to him as only a companion (Hawthorne 141). Ironically, Goodman thinks that the devil could be watching him when he is faced with the Devil personified in the figure of an ironically "grave" man (Hawthorne 141). Young Goodman Brown excuses himself for being late as "Faith" kept him back; a double meaning because his wife physically keeps him back while his faith in God psychologically also delays his meeting. As the two gentlemen start their journey through the woods, the Devil offers his staff, which resembles a serpent, to Brown (Hawthorne 141). This serpent can be looked at as an allusion to the snake in the story of Adam and Eve which led them to their expulsion from
paradise (through temptations). In this respect, a similar staff will lead Goodman Brown to the Devil's witch ceremony, destroying his faith in fellow men, and consequent expulsion from his utopia. Richard Fogle believes that the staff is an allusion to the biblical story of Aaron who had thrown down his rod before the Pharoah, thus linking Brown with a religious struggle, especially one "of the mind" (102).
Almost immediately as the two travelers resume their journey, young Brown declares that he no longer wishes to continue on his errand as he believes that he comes from a "race of honest men and good Christians" (Hawthorne 142). He further reasons that his father had never gone on such an errand, and therefore neither would he. The Devil is quick to challenge Brown's excuses by pointing out how he was with his father and grandfather as they were flogging a woman or burning an Indian village, respectively (Hawthorne 142). These acts are ironic since they are bad deeds done in the name of good, and clearly illustrate that "good Christians," like Brown's father and grandfather supposedly were, regularly partook in the same journey that he is against. Young Goodman Brown is further amazed at the Devil's further inclusion of the most religious leaders in the sort of wickedness all Puritans passionately abhorred and condemned (Hawthorne 142). Once again, Goodman Brown is bewildered when the Devil converses with Goody Cloyse, the teacher who taught him (Brown) catechism, as she holds the Devil with great reverence and speaks highly of the
evil ceremony she is making her way to (Hawthorne 143). Brown stubbornly refuses any further advancement in the journey and with great pride applauds
himself for resisting temptation and keepin...