Nathaniel Hawthornes Young Goodman Brown illustrates vividly how society and culture can very much influence a persons sense of identity and belonging, or in the case of Young Goodman Brown the lack thereof. Being a Puritan man in a society that scorned the ways of witches and the devil, Young Goodman Brown grew up with a very pious outlook on life. Yet when it occurs to him to look at life a little bit differently, Young Goodman Brown receives more than he has bargained for. The journey he embarks on sheds a whole new light on his society that not only creates a struggle between himself and his fellow men but also one within himself.
From the beginning of Hawthornes story a test of faith prevails. From the moment that Young Goodman Brown parts with his wife, Faith, to when they meet again at the heart of the forest, the very manner Young Goodman Brown has been taught his entire life is at stake. Yet it is not so much Goodman Browns faith in God that is the concern but whether or not Goodman Brown feels he can trust anyone or anything he has ever come to know and believe in. Society has preconditioned him to think a certain way, thus through this journey Young Goodman Brown cannot deal with the new Puritan life he witnesses.
Since he is unsure of what his society is truly like Goodman Brown is now incapable of knowing his place in society and knowing whom he really is. In an article entitled Cultural Fate and Social Freedom in Three American Stories Walter Shear discusses how Young Goodman Brown swings out of time, paradoxically and almost deliriously senses his power, and then moves abruptly back to contemplate his cultural fate. It is up to Goodman Brown if, upon his return to his home, he will live with a resigned contentment at his place in the world or with an irreconcilable bitterness at his powerlessness (548).
Young Goodman Brown goes into the forest at first with only a small expectation of what he is going to experience. Of his fellow Puritan society he sees the bad seeds as well as supposed men and women of the utmost regard. He sees virgin girls filled with reverence and innocence, and even members of the church present at the devils ceremony. This causes Young Goodman Brown to question his entire upbringing and trust in his society. It creates a doubt about others and even him. At first Goodman Brown is able to justify embarking on such a journey by looking to a blessed future.
But when he sees that others have made this journey before him, Young Goodman Brown starts to feel somehow lied to. Now aware of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither Young Goodman Brown feels betrayed by this Puritan society. He even tries to go back to his wife, to his home, to his faith, to how things used to be three times before he actually returns from what he called an errand. At the start of his trip it never occurs to Goodman Brown that his fellow men are sinners and that he may meet them along the way.
There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree (184) is all he suspects at first. Therefore, when he begins to spot them one after another he begins to lose his mind. How could these people, so full of piety, be worshipping the ways of the devil? Is that not the same woman who taught him his catechism? Is that not the minister and the Deacon in whose words the people place so much trust and faith? Each person he meets lures him deeper into the realms of the forest and confuses him so much that he forgets he is trying to leave the place.
There is a mysterious aura around the area that places Young Goodman Brown in a trance where, despite the presence of faith, he unconsciously continues walking. He even stays when Goody Close screams The Devil (187) as the dark figure touches her with his staff. Society has only shown Goodman Brown of the religious way of life so that now this sinning dumbfounds him. Young Goodman Brown does indeed try to resist the dark figure and go home until he thinks he hears his wife Faith in the woods.
Although the trip through the forest is the turning point in the life of Young Goodman Brown, this point in the forest is the turning point of his journey. He was able to at least blindly acknowledge the new side to Goody Close, and the minister and the Deacon, but with the sight of her pink ribbon after one stupefied moment Young Goodman Brown cried my Faith is gone (190). On the outside he believes his wife too has fallen into the trap of the devil yet on the inside he has lost his own faith. There is no good on earthcome, devil; for to thee is this world given (190).
To Goodman Brown his world is now over and with his faith in the world, in his society gone he succumbs to the evilness of the forest. This madness that Young Goodman Brown experiences escalates further more the psychological struggle he is having. What he learns in this forest changes him so much that he cannot look at anything without judging it in the manner of his experience. As Walter Shear puts it, he underestimates the power of time, failing to see the degree to which he hasmade himself a particular kind of individual, (and) ultimately the prisoner of his own psychological prisoner (Shear, 545).
Young Goodman Brown came into the journey somewhat aware of what he would see in terms of the presence of evil but did not believe that one night of this evil could change his life forever. Due to the strict Puritan society he was used to, Young Goodman Brown underestimated the power that this journey would hold and therefore he becomes a victim of his own journey and paranoia. He is now in a different world. In this different world, such extraordinary things are exposed to Young Goodman Browns mind that reality and fantasy start to blur into one and the world he now sees is very distant from the one he has left.
Yet in the midst of the horrid ceremony in the heart of the forest Young Goodman Brown once again calls for his wife Faith and as hope came into his heart, he trembled (191). This call for Faith and in essence for faith allows him to not succumb but to resist the mock baptism by the dark figure. Yet it is only in vain for even when hope enters his heart he trembles for what he has seen cannot be forgotten. Young Goodman Brown is the victim of an altered relationship to both God and nature (Shear, 545) and also that with his society.
This relationship is altered so much so that what he experiences is the revenge of the id upon the egofor the latters social acquiescence (Shear, 545). So much reliance Young Goodman Brown has placed on his society that now with this new state of mind he cannot find his place in society nor does he know who anyone really is. This doubtfulness truly reveals itself upon Young Goodman Browns return home. Even if it all really was just a dream, Brown cannot help but to judge everyone according to what he has witnessed the night before.
Even his own Faith he cannot kiss again for even though he is back with his Faith, he never regains the faith he has had in his society and their beliefs. Every good word he hears is replaced by the evil ones that haunt him from that journey so that now he does not know who is good nor what is good anymore. Young Goodman Brown could have chosen not to go into the forest. But he did therefore choosing to chance the event of seeing something he might never would have wanted to see. But now it is too late and poor Young Goodman Brown has become a prisoner of his own mind for he is unsure of what is real anymore.
Even on the day he died he was filled with gloom. The story of Young Goodman Brown presents a struggle with the clash of Goodman Browns cultural fate of being a Puritan and his mind that is exposed to unholy acts. He goes from a prisoner of only what his society has shown him to a prisoner of the fate to live in it even after he learns its potential evilness. By not succumbing to the sinfulness of his journey, Young Goodman Brown in turn succumbs to the struggle within his mind. He is trapped by taunting thoughts and allows his life to be guided by the confusion that has caused him to forever question reality.