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The Human Psyche in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown

Young Goodman Brown offers unique insight regarding the human psyche. Through psychoanalysis, the text shows how humans are easily manipulated when shown a temptation to succumb to a primitive desire. The text shows Goodman Brown, a puritan traveling to a religious gathering, is greeted by a strange man who serves as the device of revelation regarding the human mind. The pure mind of Goodman Brown ultimately gives-in to temptation because of the weak human will through the use of a simple device: the strange man’s staff.

Before the story can enter into the main plot, the text must overcome a problem. This comes when trying to show Goodman Brown’s tempter. Though the reader is offered a “strange man”, this creature alone cannot suffice as the cause of the puritan’s downfall. If this were the case, the text would imply a belief that man is powerful enough to cause its own downfall, and the ego of one individual could triumph over another. This is not the case. The text must use a method using an outside force to instigate man’s downfall, and have that symbol be clearly representative of a recognizable outside source so as not to lose the reader.

The problem is overcome through the use of the strange man’s staff. This staff symbolizes two things. The first representation reveals the outside force that corrupts man. Before the Fall, the serpent appeared to Eve and tempted her, there by causing mankind’s ultimate downfall. Throughout the story, the staff is referred to as that “dark” stick and “snake-like staff”. These references are complimented when Goody Cloyse, a corrupted Puritan, greets the strange man by leaning on the staff, as a human would hug an old lover and identifies him as Satan.

The staff, which “bore the likeness of a great black snake” and “could almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent”, represents evil in a very real sense, but this does very little to offer any depth to the psychoanalysis. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, says the conflict between the id and superego relates to aggression and sexual urges. The aggression aspect can be seen through the staff by making it a symbol of evil. Satan, or another outside evil, versus the Puritan ideals, or God, is the archetype battle between good and evil. Using the staff to show this works symbolically, but it does not address the sexual aspect of Freud’s theory.

Young Goodman Brown, as a text, uses the staff as a phallic symbol to symbolize the sexual urges Brown undergoes in his fight to remain faithful. In his ultimate defeat, the staff exposes the underlying conflict of good and evil as another fight altogether. This battle actually compliments the struggle between God and Satan. It is the fight of purity and holiness of the spirit pitted against the lustful wants and corruptive thoughts of the mind and body. In Freudian terms, it is the struggle for supremacy between the id and superego.

Ultimately, Goodman Brown allows his id to dominate the ego, which also allows the forces of evil to win. Young Goodman Brown uses the text to expose human corruptibility and moral impurity. Without these faults, however, there could be no humanity, and without the guiding light of God, humanity would have nothing for which to hope and pray.

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