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A Closer Reading of Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown

Last year, in my final year of high school, we were assigned to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown. ” At the time, I didn’t read the story too closely and I missed much of the symbolism. However, upon reading it this semester, I now appreciate it much more because it brings the reader through a roller coaster of emotions and forces him to think introspectively. When it starts off, I felt suspense; his wife’s urging him not to go set off emergency flashers in my mind. I could feel in my bones that something bad was going to happen.

Once he had begun his “journey,” the setting of that journey was once again pretty creepy. “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind” (376). I was fearful for Young Goodman Brown, and I was hoping that he would get to return to his wife, aptly named Faith. The fact that her name was Faith seemed symbolic to me. I made a mental note to analyze after I had finished reading, why Hawthorne had named her Faith.

The surreal characteristics of the path and the forest he was in, only added to the suspense when he met his companion. Based on the description of this traveler, I came to the assumption that this was Young Goodman Brown in the future. I’m not really sure if that assumption is valid or not, but that was my initial response. I think it’s interesting that my initial response is a supernatural one: a Back to the Future kind of response, where a person meets himself or herself in the future. This story gave me a creepy feeling, like a good horror story.

The suspense of not knowing what was going to happen next, while all the while expecting something dramatic, quickened my heartbeat. Young Goodman Brown then meets his catechism teacher, which is symbolic of a person he assumed was very pious and automatically going to go to Heaven. It seemed to me that this story is all about hypocrisy, and how even the most pious-seeming people still have skeletons in their closet. This was later evidenced again when he finally got to the “altar” in the middle of the forest and he sees the spectacle. He is advised by the sable form, “There are all whom ye have reverenced from youth.

Ye deemed them holier than yourselves and shrank from your own sine, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerful aspirations heavenward” (385). This short story made me think about the assumptions I’ve made about people and how I don’t really know what they do at night, metaphorically speaking. Nathaniel Hawthorne weaves, in “Young Goodman Brown,” a powerful short story that forces the reader to do some introspective thought. In the fifteen minutes it took me to read this story, me emotions went from suspense, to fear, to hope, to dread, and then to pity for Young Goodman Brown.

I believe that he would have been better off had he never seen that so-called “witch meeting” (387). He now has withdrawn emotionally from his wife, and he heard a “anthem of sin” (387) when everybody else heard a “holy psalm” (387). I believe that Young Goodman Brown is forever harmed that one night in the forest; it only adds to the eloquence of the story that you don’t know if it was all imagined or real. Young Goodman Brown would have done well to listen to the old adage: “What you don’t know, won’t hurt you. “

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