Taken from A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature, Fourth
Edition Wilfred Guerin, Earle Labor, Lee Morgan, Jeanne C.
Reesman, John R. Willingham, 1999 Oxford University Press
The Precritical Response
What the academic critic needs to keep always in mind is that the precritical response is not an inferior response to literature. (After all, we may be sure that Shakespeare did not write Hamlet so that scholarly critical approaches to it could be formulated.) Rather, the precritical response employing primarily the senses and the emotions is an indispensable one if pleasure or delight is the aim of art. Without it the critic might as well be merely proofreading for factual accuracy or correct mechanical form. It may be said to underlie or even to drive the critical response.
[Precritical Response to the work is YOUR Response to the work as you read it. The precritical responses to the short story Young Goodman Brown listed by Guerin and colleagues may not be your response. Please list your response after you read the story located at the end of the critical analysis.]
[ You naturally react to the following elements in each story
· I. SETTING
Precritical responses to setting in the works to be dealt with in this handbook are likely to be numerous and freewheeling. The Gothic texture of the New England forest in “Young Goodman Brown” will sober some readers, as will the dark and brooding castle of Hamlet.
[How do you respond to the setting in Puritan Massachusetts, of
“Young Goodman Brown”?]
Enigma and bewilderment may well be the principal precritical response elicited by the plot of “Young Goodman Brown” Is Brown’s conflict an imaginary one, or is he really battling the Devil in this theological Heart of Darkness?
[What is your response to the conflict (plot) involving protagonist
and antagonist in Young Goodman Brown?]
Just as ambiguity was prominent in the plot of “Young Goodman Brown,” so does it figure largely in a reader’s precritical evaluation of character. Brown may appear to be a victim of trauma, an essentially shallow man suddenly made to seem profoundly disturbed.
[What is your precritical response to the Characters in the story?
Does the characters' ambiguity enhance or detract from your experience?
How does ambiguity in the characters affect the allegorical aspects of
the short story?]
[Deb writing, in my opinion, the ambiguity in the story is the most important element of the allegory. Symbolic of the way people can hide their lives from others. We see the outer acts of people but we cannot on our own discern their hearts. A person who is outwardly awful may repent and be as clean as snow and a person who seems clean and pure can secretly be wicked. That ambiguity plays out so well in the conscious state that we are commanded "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged."] Luke 6:37
· IV. STRUCTURE
The structural stages in “Young Goodman Brown” may result in ambivalent reactions by the reader: on the one hand, plain recognition of the destructive effects of the events of the plot on Brown; on the other, bewilderment as to whether the events really took place or were all fantasy.
[What is your precritical response to the structure of Young Goodman
. V. STYLE
The solemn, cadenced phraseology of “Young Goodman Brown,” echoing what one imagines Puritan discourse to have been like, both in and out of the pulpit, its lightest touches still somehow ponderous.
[What is your response to the style of Young Goodman Brown?]
. VI. ATMOSPHERE
Both setting and plot make for a gloomy, foreboding atmosphere in Hamlet and “Young Goodman Brown.” The Shakespearean drama opens with sentries walking guard duty at midnight on the battlements of a medieval castle where a ghost has recently appeared. It is bitter cold and almost unnaturally quiet. Though later the scene changes many times, this atmosphere persists, augmented by the machinations of the principals, by dramatic confrontations, by reveries on death, by insane ravings, and finally by wholesale slaughter. In only slightly less melodramatic form, Hawthorne’s story takes the reader to a witches’ sabbath deep in the forests of seventeenth-century Massachusetts, where a cacophony of horrid sounds makes up the auditory background for a scene of devilish human countenances and eerie, distorted images of trees, stones, clouds. The protagonist’s ambiguous role in the evil ceremony, which ruins his life, adds to the dark atmosphere pervading the story.
[What is your response?]
Despite complexity and ambiguity, the precritical reader will sense the meaning of faith and the effects of evil in “Young Goodman Brown” as two of the more urgent themes in the story.
[What do you see as the theme to Young Goodman Brown?]
Regardless of the extent to which close scrutiny and technical knowledge aid in literary analysis, there is no substitute for an initial personal, appreciative response to the basic ingredients of literature: setting, plot, character, structure, style, atmosphere, and theme. The reader who manages to proceed without that response sacrifices the spontaneous joy of seeing any art object whole, the wondrous sum of myriad parts.
The precritical approach, then, is the one taken by the afore mentioned “common reader”—literate, sensitive, interested in literature but lacking the technical skills of academic criticism. It is an approach which, as we have just claimed, produces satisfaction—even joy—and appreciation.
[Now compare your precritical response with the critical response. Just
so you know, When I listen to your comments in the discussions, in my opinion,
you often have greater insight than the scholarly response.]
Traditional Approaches (Historical-Biographical and
[Until recently this is how literature was studied and discussed critically. The work itself was all but ignored and the bibliophiles discussed the history behind the work, the author's life.] "Put simply, this approach sees a literary work chiefly, if not exclusively, as a reflection of its author's life and times or the life and times of the characters of the work."
"The Moral-Philosophical approach is as old as classical Greek and Roman critics. Plato, for example, emphasized moralism and utilitarianism; Horace stressed that literature should be delightful and instructive."
D. Traditional Approaches to “Young Goodman Brown”
“Young Goodman Brown,” universally acclaimed as one of Hawthorne’s best short stories, presents the student with not only several possible meanings but several rather ambiguous meanings. D. M. McKeithan lists the suggestions that have been advanced as “the theme” of the story: “the reality of sin, the pervasiveness of evil, the secret sin and hypocrisy of all persons, the hypocrisy of Puritanism, the results of doubt or disbelief, the devastating effects of moral scepticism,. . . the demoralizing effects of the discovery that all men are sinners and hypocrites” (93). Admittedly, these themes are not as diverse as they might at first appear. They are, with the possible exception of the one specifically mentioning Puritanism, quite closely related. But meaning is not restricted to theme, and there are other ambivalences in the story that make its meanings both rich and elusive. After taking into account some matters of text and genre, we shall look at “Young Goodman Brown” from our traditional perspectives.
1. The Text of the Story
Textually, “Young Goodman Brown,” first published in 1835 in the New England Magazine, presents relatively few problems. Obsolete words in the story like “wot’st” (know), “Goody” (Goodwife, or Mrs.), and “Goodman” (Mr.) are defined in most desk dictionaries, and none of the other words has undergone radical semantic change. Nevertheless, as we have seen, although a literary work may have been written in a day when printing had reached a high degree of accuracy, a perfect text is by no means a foregone conclusion. With Hawthorne, as with other authors, scholars are constantly working on more accurate texts.
For example, the first edition of this handbook used a version of “Young Goodman Brown” that contained at least two substantive variants. About three-fourths of the way through the story the phase “unconcerted wilderness” appeared. David Levin points out that nineteen years after Hawthorne’s death, a version of the story edited by George P. Lathrop printed “unconcerted” for the first time: every version before then, including Hawthorne’s last revision, had had “unconverted.” In that same paragraph the first edition of this handbook printed “figure” as opposed to “apparition,” the word that Levin tells us occurred in the first published versions of the story (346, n.8). Obviously, significant interpretive differences could hinge on which words are employed in these contexts.
2. The Genre and the Plot of the Story
“Young Goodman Brown” is a short story; that is, it is a relatively brief narrative of prose fiction (ranging in length from five hundred to twenty thousand words) characterized by considerably more unity and compression in all its parts than the novel—in theme, plot, structure, character, setting, and mood. In the story we are considering, the situation is this: one evening near sunset sometime in the late seventeenth century, Goodman Brown, a young man who has been married only thee months, prepares to leave his home in Salem, Massachusetts, and his pretty young bride, Faith, to go into the forest and spend the night on some mission that he will not disclose other than to say that it must be performed between sunset and sunrise. Although Faith has strong forebodings about his journey and pleads with him to postpone it, Brown is adamant and sets off. His business is evil by his own admission; he does not state what it is specifically, but it becomes apparent to the reader that it involves attending a witches’ Sabbath in the forest, a remarkable action in view of the picture of Brown, drawn early in the story, as a professing Christian who admonishes his wife to pray and who intends to lead an exemplary life after this one night.
The rising action begins when Brown, having left the village, enters the dark, gloomy, and probably haunted forest. He has not gone far before he meets the Devil in the form of a middle-aged, respectable-looking man with whom Brown has made a bargain to accompany on his journey. Perhaps the full realization of who his companion is and what the night may hold in store for him now dawns on Brown, for he makes an effort to return to Salem. It is at best a feeble attempt, however, for, though the Devil does not try to detain him, Brown continues walking with him deeper into the forest.
As they go, the Devil shocks Goodman Brown by telling him that his (Brown’s)
ancestors were religious bigots, cruel exploiters, and practitioners of
the black art—in short, full-fledged servants of the Devil. Further, the
young man is told that the very pillars of New England society, church,
and state are witches (creatures actually in league with the Devil), lechers,
blasphemers, and collaborators with the Devil. Indeed, he sees his childhood
Sunday School teacher, now a witch, and overhears the voices of his minister
and a deacon of his church as they ride past conversing about the diabolical
communion service to which both they and he are going.
Clinging to the notion that he may still save himself from this breakup of his world, Goodman Brown attempts to pray, but stops when a cloud suddenly darkens the sky. A babel of voices seems to issue from the cloud, many recognizable to Brown as belonging to godly persons, among them his wife. After the cloud has passed, a pink ribbon such as Faith wears in her cap flutters to the ground. Upon seeing it, Goodman Brown is plunged into despair and hastens toward the witches’ assembly Once there, he is confronted with a congregation made up of the wicked and those whom Brown had always assumed to be righteous. As he is led to the altar to be received into this fellowship of the lost, he is joined by Faith. The climax of the story comes just before they receive the sacrament of baptism: Brown cries to his wife to look heavenward and save herself. In the next moment he finds himself alone.
The denouement (resolution, unraveling) of the plot comes quickly. Returning the next morning to Salem, Goodman Brown is a changed man. He now doubts that anyone is good— his wife, his neighbors, the officials of church and state—and he remains in this state of cynicism until he dies.
The supernaturalism and horror of “Young Goodman Brown” mark the story
as one variant of the Gothic tale, a type of ghost story originating formally
in late eighteenth-century England and characterized by spirit-haunted
habitations, diabolical villains, secret doors and passageways, terrifying
and mysterious sounds and happenings, and the like. Obviously, “Young Goodman
Brown” bears some resemblance to these artificial creations, the aesthetic
value of most of which is negligible. What is much more significant is
that here is a variation of the Faust legend, the story of a man who makes
a bargain with the Devil (frequently the sale of his soul) in exchange
for some desirable thing. In this instance Goodman Brown did not go nearly
so far in the original indenture, but it was not necessary from the Devil’s
point of view. One glimpse of evil unmasked was enough to wither the soul
of Brown forever.
3. Historical-Biographical Considerations
So much for textual matters, paraphrasable content, and genre. What kind of historical or biographical information do we need in order to feel the full impact of this story, aesthetically and intellectually? Obviously, some knowledge of Puritan New England is necessary. We can place the story in time easily, because Hawthorne mentions that it takes place in the days of King William (that is, William III, who reigned from 1688 to 1702). Other evidences of the time of the story are the references to persecution of the Quakers by Brown’s grandfather (the 1660s) and King Philip’s War (primarily a massacre of Indians by colonists [1675—1676]), in which Brown’s father participated. Specific locales like Salem, Boston, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are mentioned, as are terms used in Puritan church organization and government, such as ministers, elders, meetinghouses, communion tables, saints (in the Protestant sense of any Christian), selectmen, and lecture days.
But it is not enough for us to visualize a sort of first Thanksgiving picture of Pilgrims with steeple-crowned hats, Bibles, and blunderbusses. For one thing, we need to know something of Puritan religion and theology This means at least a slight knowledge of Calvinism, a main source of Puritan religious doctrine. A theology as extensive and complex as Calvinism and one that has been the subject of so many misconceptions cannot be described adequately in a handbook of this type. But at the risk of perpetuating some of these misconceptions, let us mention three or four tenets of Calvinism that will illuminate to some degree the story of Goodman Brown. Calvinism stresses the sovereignty of God—in goodness, power, and knowledge. Correspondingly, it emphasizes the helplessness and sinfulness of human beings, who have been since the Fall of Adam innately and totally depraved. Their only hope is in the grace of God, for God alone is powerful enough (sovereign enough) to save them. And the most notorious, if not the chief, doctrine is predestination, which includes the belief that God has, before their creation, selected certain people for eternal salvation, others for eternal damnation. Appearances are therefore misleading; an outwardly godly person might not be one of the elect. Thus it is paradoxical that Goodman Brown is so shocked to learn that there is evil among the apparently righteous, for this was one of the most strongly implied teachings of his church.
In making human beings conscious of their absolute reliance on God alone for salvation, Puritan clergymen dwelt long and hard on the pains of hell and the powerlessness of mere mortals to escape them. Brown mentions to the Devil that the voice of his pastor “would make me tremble both Sabbath day and lecture day.” This was a typical reaction. In Calvinism, nobody could be sure of sinlessness. Introspection was mandatory Christians had to search their hearts and minds constantly to purge themselves of sin. Goodman Brown is hardly expressing a Calvinistic concept when he speaks of clinging to his wife’s skirts and following her to Heaven. Calvinists had to work out their own salvation in fear and trembling, and they were often in considerable doubt about the outcome. The conviction that sin was an ever-present reality that destroyed the unregenerate kept it before them all the time and made its existence an undoubted, well-nigh tangible fact. We must realize that aspects of the story like belief in witches and an incarnate Devil, which until the recent upsurge of interest in demonism and the occult world have struck modern readers as fantastic, were entirely credible to New Englanders of this period. Indeed, on one level, “Young Goodman Brown” may be read as an example of Satanism. Goody Cloyse and the Devil in the story even describe at length a concoction with which witches were popularly believed to have anointed themselves and a satanic worship attended by witches, devils, and lost souls.
It is a matter of historical record that a belief in witchcraft and
the old pagan gods existed in Europe side by side with Christianity well
into the modern era. The phenomenon has recurred in our own day, ballyhooed
by the popular press as well as the electronic media. There was an analogous
belief prevalent in Puritan New England. Clergymen, jurists, statesmen—educated
people generally, as well as uneducated folk— were convinced that witches
and witchcraft were realities. Cotton Mather, one of the most learned men
of the period, attests eloquently to his own belief in these phenomena
in The Wonders of the Invisible World, his account of the trials of several
people executed for witchcraft. Some of the headings in the table of contents
are instructive: “A True Narrative, collected by Deodat Lawson, related
to Sundry Persons afflicted by Witchcraft, from the 19th of March to the
5th of April, 1692” and “The Second Case considered, viz. If one bewitched
be cast down with the look or cast of the Eye of another Person, and after
that recovered again by a Touch from the same Per-
son, is not this an infallible Proof that the party accused and complained of is in Covenant with the Devil?”
Hawthorne’s great-grandfather, John Hathorne (Nathaniel added the “w”), was one of the judges in the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692, during which many people were tortured, and nineteen hanged, and one crushed to death (a legal technicality was responsible for this special form of execution). Commentators have long pointed to “Young Goodman Brown,” The Scarlet Letter, and many other Hawthorne stories to illustrate his obsession with the guilt of his Puritan forebears for their part in these crimes. In “The Custom House,” his introduction to The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne wrote of these ancestors who were persecutors of Quakers and witches and of his feeling that he was tainted by their crimes. The Devil testified that he helped young Goodman Brown’s grandfather, a constable, lash a “Quaker woman. . . smartly through the streets of Salem,” an episode undoubtedly related to Hawthorne’s “Custom House” reference to his great-grandfather’s “hard severity towards a woman of [the Quaker] sect.”
Hawthorne’s notebooks are also a source in interpreting his fiction.
They certainly shed light on his preoccupation with the “unpardonable sin”
and his particular definition of that sin. It is usually defined as blasphemy
against the Holy Ghost, or continued conscious sin without repentance,
or refusing to acknowledge the existence of God even though the Holy Spirit
has actually proved it. The notebooks, however, and works of fiction like
“Ethan Brand,” “Young Goodman Brown,” and The Scarlet Letter make it clear
that for Hawthorne the Unpardonable Sin was to probe, intellectually and
rationally, the human heart for depravity without tempering the search
by a “human” or “democratic” sympathy. Specifically in the case of “Young
Goodman Brown,” Brown’s obduracy of heart cuts him off from all, so that
“his dying hour [is] gloom.”
4. Moral-Philosophical Considerations
The terror and suspense in the Hawthorne story function as integral parts of the allegory that defines the story’s theme. In allegory (a narrative containing a meaning beneath the surface one), there is usually a one-to-one relationship; that is, one idea or object in the narrative stands for only one idea or object allegorically. A story from the Old Testament illustrates this. The pharaoh of Egypt dreamed that seven fat cows were devoured by seven lean cows. Joseph interpreted this dream as meaning that seven years of plenty (good crops) would be followed by seven years of famine. “Young Goodman Brown” clearly functions on this level of allegory (while at times becoming richly symbolic). Brown is not just one Salem citizen of the late seventeenth century, but rather seems to typify humankind, to be in a sense Everyman, [Goodman means Mr., every man] in that what he does and the reason he does it appear very familiar to most people, based on their knowledge of others and on honest appraisal of their own behavior.
For example, Goodman Brown, like most people, wants to experience evil—not perpetually, of course, for he is by and large a decent chap, a respectably married man, a member of a church—but he desires to “taste the forbidden fruit” (“have one last fling”) before settling down to the business of being a solid citizen and attaining the good life. He feels that he can do this because he means to retain his religious faith, personified in his wife, who, to reinforce the allegory, is even named Faith. But in order to encounter evil, he must part with his Faith at least temporarily, something he is either willing or compelled to do. It is here that he makes his fatal mistake, for evil turns out to be not some abstraction nor something that can be played with for a while and then put down, but the very pillars of Goodman Brown’s world—his ancestors, his earthly rulers, his spiritual overseers, and finally his Faith. In short, so overpowering are the fact and universality of evil in the world that Goodman Brown comes to doubt the existence of any good. By looking upon the very face of evil, he is transformed into a cynic and a misanthrope whose “dying hour was gloom.”
Thomas E. Connolly has remarked that Goodman Brown has not lost his faith; he has found it (370—75). That is, Goodman Brown believes that he understands the significance of the Calvinistic teaching of the depravity of humans; this realization makes him doubt and dislike his fellows and in effect paralyzes his moral will so that he questions the motivation of every apparently virtuous act. But this is surely a strange conclusion for Brown to reach, for he has violated the cardinal tenets of Calvinism. If Calvinism stressed anything, it stressed the practical and spiritual folly of placing hope or reliance on human beings and their efforts, which by the very nature of things are bound to fail, whereas God alone never fails. Therefore all trust should be reposed in Him. It is just this teaching that Brown has not learned. On the practical plane, he cannot distinguish between appearance and reality. He takes things and people at face value. If a man looks respectable and godly, Brown assumes that he is. And if the man turns out to be a scoundrel, Brown’s every standard crumbles. He is in a sense guilty of a kind of idolatry: human institutions in the forms of ministers, church officers, statesmen, and wives have been his god. When they are discredited, he has nothing else to place his trust in and thus becomes a cynic and a misanthrope.
[good point in the last paragraph, I can't read Young Goodman Brown and not understand myself better. When I put my faith in other people rather than in Christ and his atonement, that is a form of idol worship. Thou shalt not put other Gods before me can include people that we admire, if Christ is not our center.]
Thus, rather than making a frontal attack on Calvinism, Hawthorne indicted certain reprehensible aspects of Puritanism: the widespread holier-than-thou attitude; the spiritual blindness that led many Puritans to mistake a pious front for genuine religion; the latent sensuality in the apparently austere and disciplined soul (the very capstone of hypocrisy, because sins of the flesh were particularly odious to Puritan orthodoxy).
It will perhaps be argued that Calvinism at its most intense, with its
dim view of human nature, is quite likely to produce cynicism and misanthropy.
But historically, if paradoxically, Calvinists have been dynamic and full
of faith; they have been social and political reformers, educators, enterprisers
in business, explorers, foes of tyranny. The religious furnace in which
these souls were tempered, however, is too hot for Goodman Brown. He is
of a weaker breed, and the sum of his experience with the hard realities
of life is disillusion and defeat. He has lost his faith. Whether because
his faith was false or because he wished for an objectively verifiable
certainty that is the antithesis of faith, Hawthorne does not say. He does
not even say whether the whole thing was a dream or reality. Actually,
it does not matter. [I agree] The result remains: faith has been destroyed
and supplanted by total despair because Brown is neither a good Calvinist,
a good Christian, nor, in the larger sense, a good man.
The Formalistic Approach AKA New Criticism
[Literature is a work of art not just history, biography and moral instruction.]
The formalistic approach emphasizes the manner of reading literature that was given its special dimensions and emphases by English and American critics in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. ...Being a good reader of literature necessitates our reading closely and reading well. Reading well is what the New Critics helped us to do.
They taught us to look at the individual work of literary art as an organic form. They articulated the concept that in an organic form there is a consistency and an internal vitality that we should look for and appreciate. In doing so, we would appropriate the work to ourselves and make it part of our consciousness in the same way that we might when we study Mahler's Ninth Symphony or Michelangelo's David, or in the same way that the persona in Keats's ode studied the Grecian Urn. [In other words we see literature as a work of art, a work of delightful creation.]
...The Romantic movement in Europe in the late eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries intensified speculations about form in literature. ...Later
Henry James in "The Art of Fiction" and the prefaces to his tales and novels,
argued for fiction as a 'fine art' and for the intricate necessary interrelationships
of parts and the whole.
The Formalistic Approach in Practice
B. The Dark, the Light, and the Pink: Ambiguity as Form in "Young Goodman Brown”
In short fiction, as in a poem, we can look for the telling word or phrase, the recurring or patterned imagery, the symbolic object or character, the hint of or clue to meaning greater than that of the action or plot alone. Because we can no more justify stopping with a mere summary of what happens outwardly in the story than we can with a mere prose paraphrase of a lyric poem’s content, we must look for the key to a story’s form in one or more devices or images or motifs that offer a pattern that leads us to larger implications. In short, we seek a point at which the structure of the story coincides with and illuminates its meaning.
As we approach a formalistic reading of Hawthorne’s story, we should make another point or two of comparison and contrast. The lyric poem generally embraces a dramatic situation. That is, a speaker reacts to an experience, a feeling, an idea, or even a physical sensation. Only one voice is ordinarily present in the lyric poem, but in other literary genres there is usually a group of characters. In fiction the story is told by the author, by one of the characters in the story, or by someone who has heard of an episode. Unlike the novel, the other major fictional type, the short story is characteristically concerned with relatively few characters and with only one major situation, which achieves its climax and solution and thus quickly comes to an end. The short story is restricted in scope, like a news story, for example, but unlike the news story, the short story possesses balance and design—the polish and finish, the completeness that we associate with the work of art. A principle of unity operates throughout to give that single effect that Poe emphasized as necessary. In brief, like any other imaginative literary work, the short story possesses form.
Paradoxical as it may seem, we wish to suggest that ambiguity is a formal device in “Young Goodman Brown.” One sure way to see this ambiguity is to trace the relationships between light and dark in the story, for the interplay of daylight and darkness, of town and (dark) forest, is important. For evidence of that importance the reader is urged to consult Richard Harter Fogle’s classic study, Hawthorne’s Fiction: The Light and the Dark. We shall not neglect the interplay of dark and light— indeed we assume it—but we wish to focus on another device of ambiguity.
In “Young Goodman Brown” we can start with a clearly emphasized image that almost immediately takes on symbolic qualities. That is the set of pink ribbons that belongs to Faith, young Brown’s wife. Whatever she is (and much of the effect of the story centers on that “whatever”), the pink ribbons are her emblem as much as the scarlet letter is Hester Prynne’s. They are mentioned three times in the first page or so of the story. Near the center of the story, a pink ribbon falls, or seems to fall, from a cloud that Goodman Brown sees, or thinks he sees, overhead. At the end of the story, when Faith eagerly greets her returning husband, she still wears her pink ribbons. Like the admixture of light and dark in the tale—as in much of Hawthorne—the ribbons are neither red nor white. They are somewhere between: they are ambiguity objectified. Clearly Hawthorne meant them to be suggestive, to be an index to one or more themes in the tale. But suggestive of what? Are they emblematic of love, of innocence, of good? Conversely, do they suggest evil, or hypocrisy, or the ambiguous and puzzling blend of good and evil? Are they symbolic of sex, of femininity, or of Christian faith? Should we even attempt to limit the meaning to one possibility? Would we be wise-or slovenly—to let the ribbons mean more than one thing in the story?
1. Virtues and Vices
Of this we can be sure: to follow this motif as it guides us to related symbols and patterns of relationships is to probe the complex interweaving of ideas within the story. Specifically, in the interpretation that follows we suggest that the mysterious pink ribbons are-at least among other things—an index to elements of theology. To see that relationship let us first consider the theological matrix of the story.
Because the Puritan setting of “Young Goodman Brown” is basic to the story, we can expect that some of its thematic patterns derive from traditional Christian concepts. For example, readers generally assume that Goodman Brown loses his faith—in Christ, in human beings, or in both. But the story is rich in ambiguities, and it is therefore not surprising that at least one reader has arrived at the opposite conclusion. Thomas E. Connolly has argued that the story is an attack on Calvinism, and that Faith (that is, faith) is not lost in the story. On the contrary, he says, Goodman Brown is confirmed in his faith, made aware of “its full and terrible significance.” Either way—loss of faith or still firmer belief—we see the story in a theological context. Although we do not have to accept either of these views, we do not have to deny them either. Instead, let us accept the theological matrix within which both views exist. As a matter of fact, let us pursue this theological view by following the pattern of relationships of faith, hope, and love, and their opposed vices, in other words the form that this pattern creates in the mind of the reader.
We can assume that Hawthorne was familiar with some of the numerous passages from the Bible that bear upon the present interpretation. Twice in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul mentions the need for faith, hope, and love (1:3 and 5:8). In 1 Corinthians 13, after extolling love as the most abiding of the virtues, Paul concludes his eloquent description with this statement: “So there abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” The author of the first epistle of Peter wrote, “But above all things have a constant mutual love among yourselves; for love covers a multitude of sins” (4:8). To these may be added the telling passages on love of God and neighbor (Matt. 22:36—40 and Rom. 13:9—10) and related passages on love (such as Col. 3:14 and 1 Tim. 1:5). Faith, hope, and love, we should note, have traditionally been called the theological virtues because they have God (theos) for their immediate object.
[What other bible verses do you think Hawthorne may have had in mind
as he penned this work?]
(Deb writes, And of course, I have to tell you my verses. I think Hawthorne might have been mindful of Isaiah chapter 1, especially verse 18 for the white and red that combine to create Faith's ribbons. Faith never gives up on Goodman but Goodman gives up on Faith, Christ and the gift of atonement. And 1 John 1:8 "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves..." When Satan says he thinks everyone follows and belongs to him, that is probably his real life point of view. He is the accuser and all fall short. Goodman's ancestors, the church and civic leaders and all his neighbors have all made mistakes do belong to Satan if they do not make use of the atonement. The same is true for all of us.)
Continuting with Guerin:
Quite possibly Hawthorne had some of these passages in mind, for it appears that he wove into the cloth of “Young Goodman Brown” a pattern of steady attention to these virtues. Surely he provided a clue for us when he chose Faith as the name for Goodman Brown’s wife. Hawthorne thereby gave faith first place in the story, not necessarily because faith is the story’s dominant theme (indeed, love may well be the dominant theme), but because faith is important in Puritan theology and because it is traditionally listed as the first of the three virtues. Allusions to faith could be made explicit in so many passages in the story and implicit inso many others that they would provide an evident pattern to suggest clearly the other two virtues. (Similarly, the epithet goodman could take on symbolic qualities and function almost as Brown’s given name, not simply as something comparable to modern mister.)
An analysis of these passages, for example, shows not only explicit mentions of faith but also implicit allusions to the virtues of faith, hope, and love, and to their opposed vices, doubt, despair, and hatred. The first scene includes these:
“And Faith, as the wife was aptly named”; “My love and my Faith”; “dost thou doubt me already . . . ?“; “he looked back and saw the head of Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy air”; “Poor little Faith!”; and “I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.” Both Goodman Brown and the man he meets in the forest make similar allusions in the second scene, where we read: “Faith kept me back a while”; “We have been a race of honest men and good Christians”; “We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot” (a hint of the theological debate on faith and good works); “Well, then, to end the matter at once, there is my wife, Faith”; “that Faith should come to any harm”; and “why I should quit my dear Faith and go after [Goody Cloyse].” In the episode after the older man leaves Goodman Brown, we have these passages: “so purely and sweetly now, in the arms of Faith!”; “He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him”; “With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!”; “a cloud,” “confused and doubtful of voices,” “he doubted”; “‘Faith!’ shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation”; and “‘My Faith is gone! Come, devil. . . .‘ And, maddened with despair. . . .“ The last scenes, the forest conclave and young Goodman Brown’s return home, offer these: “‘But where is Faith?’ thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came”; “the wretched man beheld his Faith . . . before that unhallowed altar”; “‘Faith! Faith!’ cried the husband, ‘look up to heaven . . .‘ “; “the head of Faith . . . gazing anxiously”; “a distrustful, if not a desperate man”; “he shrank from the bosom of Faith . . . and turned away”; and “no hopeful verse . . . , for his dying hour was gloom.”
2. Symbol or Allegory?
With these passages in mind, let us recall that there may be both symbolical and allegorical uses of the word “faith.” Such ambivalence can complicate a reading of the story. If the tale is allegorical, for example, it may be that Goodman Brown gained his faith (that is, the belief that he is one of the elect) only three months before the action of the story, when he and Faith were married. The fall of the pink ribbon may be a sin or a fall, just as Adam’s fall was the original sin, a lapse from grace. The allegory may further suggest that Goodman Brown shortly loses his new faith, for “he shrank from the bosom of Faith.” But allegory is difficult to maintain, often requiring a rigid one-to-one equivalence between the surface meaning and a “higher” meaning. Thus if Faith is faith, and Goodman Brown loses the latter, how do we explain that Faith remains with him and even outlives him? Strict allegory would require that she disappear, perhaps even vanish in that dark cloud from which the pink ribbon apparently falls. On the other hand, a pattern of symbolism centering on Faith is easier to handle, and may even be more rewarding by offering us more pervasive, more subtly interweaving ideas that, through their very ambiguity, suggest the difficulties of the theological questions in the story. Such a symbolic view also frees the story from a strict adherence to the Calvinistic concept of election and conviction in the faith, so that the story becomes more universally concerned with Goodman Brown as Everyman Brown.
3. Loss upon Loss
Whether we emphasize symbol or allegory, however, Goodman Brown must remain a character in his own right, one who progressively loses faith in his ultimate salvation, in his forebears as members of the elect or at least as “good” people, and in his wife and fellow townspeople as holy Christians. At a literal level, he does not lose Faith, for she greets him when he returns from the forest, she still wears her pink ribbons, she follows his corpse to the grave. Furthermore, she keeps her pledge to him, for it is he who shrinks from her. In other words, Brown has not completely lost Faith; rather he has lost faith, a theological key to heaven.
But when faith is lost, not all is lost, though it may very nearly be. Total loss comes later and gradually as Brown commits other sins. We can follow this emerging pattern when we recall that the loss of faith is closely allied to the loss of hope. We find that, in the story, despair (the vice opposed to hope) can be easily associated with doubt (the vice opposed to faith). For example, the two vices are nearly allied when Goodman Brown recognizes the pink ribbon: “‘My Faith is gone!’ cried he, after one stupefied moment. ‘There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given.’ And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again . . .“ (our italics).
Doubt, although surely opposed to belief, here leads to despair as much as to infidelity. Similarly, many passages that point to faith also point to hope. When Goodman Brown says, “‘I’ll follow her to heaven,”’ he expresses hope as well as belief. When he says, “‘With heaven above and Faith below,”’ he hopes to “‘stand firm against the devil.”’ When he cries, “‘Faith, look up to heaven,”’ he utters what may be his last hope for salvation. Once again we see how motifs function in a formal structure. It is easy to touch the web at any one point and make it vibrate elsewhere.
Thus we must emphasize that Brown’s hope is eroded by increasing doubt, the opposite of faith. We recall that the passages already quoted include the words “desperate,” “despair,” and “no hopeful verse.” When Goodman Brown reenters the town, he has gone far toward a complete failure to trust in God. His thoughts and his actions when he sees the child talking to Goody Cloyse border on the desperate, both in the sense of despair and in the sense of frenzy. Later, we know that he has fully despaired, “for his dying hour was gloom.”
“But the greatest of these is love,” and “love covers a multitude of sins,” the Scriptures insist. Goodman Brown sins against this virtue too, and as we follow these reiterations of the structural components we may well conclude that Hawthorne considered this sin the greatest sin in Brown’s life. Sins against love of neighbor are important in other Hawthorne stories. It is a sin against love that Ethan Brand and Roger Chillingworth commit. It is a sin against love of which Rappaccini’s daughter accuses Guasconti: “Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart; but they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from the first, more poison in thy nature than in mine?” In The House of the Seven Gables, it is love that finally overcomes the hate-engendered curse of seven generations.
In “Young Goodman Brown” perhaps the motif of love-hate is first suggested in the opening scene, when Goodman Brown refuses his wife’s request that he remain: “‘My love and my Faith,’ replied young Goodman Brown, ‘of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee.. . . What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?”’ Significantly, the words “love” and “Faith” are used almost as synonyms. When the pink ribbons are mentioned in the next paragraph almost as an epithet (“Faith, with the pink ribbons”), they are emblematic of one virtue as much as the other. Later, Goodman Brown’s love of others is diminished when he learns that he is of a family that has hated enough to lash the “Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem” and “to set fire to an Indian village.” Instead of being concerned for his own neighbor, he turns against Goody Cloyse, resigning her to the powers of darkness: “What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil . . . ?“ He turns against Faith and against God Himself when, after the pink ribbon has fallen from the cloud, he says, “‘Come, devil; for to thee is this world given.”’ To be sure, he still loves Faith enough at the forest conclave to call upon her yet to look to heaven; but next morning when she almost kisses her husband in front of the whole village, “Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.” By this time he is becoming guilty of the specific sin called rash judgment, for he rashly makes successive judgments on his neighbors. He shrinks from the blessing of “the good old minister,” he disparages the prayers of old Deacon Gookin, he snatches a child away from the catechizing of “Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian.” Thenceforth he stubbornly isolates himself from his fellow men and from his own wife. On the Sabbath day he questions their hymns and their sermons, at midnight he shrinks from his wife, at morning or eventide he scowls at family prayers. Having given his allegiance to the devil, he cannot fulfill the injunction of the second great commandment any more than he can fulfill that of the first. Unable to love himself, he is unable to love his neighbor.
“Faith, hope, and love: these three” he has lost, replacing them with
their opposed vices, and the pink ribbons serve as emblems for them all
and lead to a double pattern of virtues and vices. In “Young Goodman Brown”
the motifs of faith, hope, and love, summed up in the pink ribbons, blend
each into each. If the blend sometimes confuses us, like the alternating
light and dark of the forest conclave, and more particularly like the mystery
of the pink ribbons, it is perhaps no less than Hawthorne intended when
he presented Goodman Brown’s initiation into the knowledge of good evil,
a knowledge that rapidly becomes confusion. For Goodman Brown it is a knowledge
by which he seems to turn the very names and epithets of Goodman, Goody,
and Gookin into variant spellings of “evil,” just as Brown transmutes faith,
hope and love into their opposed vices. For the reader the pink ribbons,
like the balance of town and country, like the interplay of light and dark,
remain in the mind an index to ambiguity, which is, paradoxically, as we
have said, a formalistic device in the story.
The Psychological Approach: Freud
"Of all the approaches to literature this has been one of the nost controversial, and the MOST ABUSED, and-- for many readers-- the least appreciated. Yet, for all the difficulties involved in its proper application to interpretive analysis the psychological approach can be fascinating and rewarding.
That most of an individual's mental processes are unconscious is Freud's
first major premise. Second (this premise is rejected by professionals
including Freud's disciples) is that all human behavior is morivated ultimately
by what we would call sexuality. His third major premise is that
because of the powerful social taboos attached to certain sexual impulses,
many of our desires and memories are repressed (excluded from conscious
preceptual -- conscious
SUPEREGO EGO repressed
C. "Young Goodman Brown”: Id versus Superego
The theme of innocence betrayed is also central to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” the tale of the young bridegroom who leaves his wife Faith to spend a night with Satan in the forest. The events of that terrifying night are a classic traumatic experience for the youth. At the center of the dark wilderness he discovers a witches’ Sabbath involving all the honored teachers, preachers, and friends of his village. The climax is reached when his own immaculate bride is brought forth to stand by his side and pledge eternal allegiance to the Fiend of Hell. Following this climactic moment in which the hero resists the diabolical urge to join the fraternity of evil, he wakes to find himself in the deserted forest wondering if what has happened was dream or reality. Regardless of the answer, he is a changed man. He returns in the morning to the village and to his Faith, but he is never at peace with himself again. Henceforth he can never hear the singing of a holy hymn without also hearing echoes of the anthem of sin from that terrible night in the forest. He shrinks even from the side of Faith. His dying hour is gloom, and no hopeful epitaph is engraved upon his tombstone.
Aside from the clearly intended allegorical meanings discussed elsewhere
in this book, it is the story’s underlying psychological implications that
concern us here. We start with the assumption that, through symbolism and
technique, “Young Goodman Brown” means more than it says. In this respect
task is one of extrapolation, an inferring of the unknown from the known. Our first premise is that Brown’s journey is more than a physical one; it is a psychological one as well. To see what this journey means in psychological terms, we need to examine the setting, the time and place. Impelled by unmistakably libidinal force, the hero moves from the village of Salem into the forest. The village is a place of light and order, both social and spiritual order. Brown leaves Faith behind in the town at sunset and returns to Faith in the morning. The journey into the wilderness is taken in the night: “My journey . . forth and back again,” explains the young man to his wife, “must needs be done ‘twixt now and sunrise.” It is in the forest, a place of darkness and unknown terrors, that Brown meets the Devil. On one level, then, the village may be equated with consciousness, the forest with the dark recesses of the unconscious. But, more precisely, the village, as a place of social and moral order (and inhibition) is analogous to Freud’s superego, conscience, the morally inhibiting agent of the psyche; the forest, as a place of wild, untamed passions and terrors, has the attributes of the Freudian id. As mediator between these opposing forces, Brown himself resembles the poor ego, which tries to effect a healthy balance and is shattered because it is unable to do so.
Why can’t he reconcile these forces? Is his predicament that of all human beings, as is indicated by his common, nondistinctive surname? If so, are we all destined to die in gloom? Certainly, Hawthorne implies, we cannot remain always in the village, outside the forest. And sooner or later, we must all confront Satan. Let us examine this diabolical figure for a moment. When we first see him (after being prepared by Brown’s expressed fear, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!”), he is “seated at the foot of an old tree”—an allusion to the “old tree” of forbidden fruit and the knowledge of sin. He is described as “bearing a considerable resemblance” to the hero himself. He is, in short, Brown’s own alter ego, the dramatic projection of a part of Brown’s psyche, just as Faith is the projection of another part of his psyche. The staff Satan is carrying, similar to the maple stick he later gives to Brown, is like a “great black snake . . . a living serpent”—a standard Freudian symbol for the uncontrollable phallus. As he moves on through the forest, Brown encounters other figures, the most respected of his moral tutors: old Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, and, at last, even Faith herself, her pink ribbon reflecting the ambiguity that Brown is unable to resolve, for pink is the mixture of white (for purity) and red (for passion). Thoroughiy unnerved—then maddened—by disillusionment, Brown capitulates to the wild evil in this heart of darkness and becomes “himself the chief horror of the scene, [shrinking] not from its other horrors.” That the whole lurid scene may be interpreted as the projection of Brown’s formerly repressed impulses is indicated in Hawthorne’s description of the transformed protagonist:
In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew among the black pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth such laughter as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man. (our italics)
Though Hawthorne implies that Brown’s problem is that of Everyman, he does not suggest that all humans share Brown’s gloomy destiny. Like Freud, Hawthorne saw the dangers of an overactive suppression of libido and the consequent development of a tyrannous superego, though he thought of the problem in his own terms as an imbalance of head versus heart. Goodman Brown is the tragic victim of a society that has shut its eyes to the inevitable “naturalness” of sex as a part of humankind’s physical and mental constitution, a society whose moral system would suppress too severely natural human impulses.
Among Puritans the word “nature” was virtually synonymous with “sin.” In Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, little Pearl, illegitimate daughter of Hester Prynne and the Reverend Mr. Arthur Dimmesdale, is identified throughout as the “child of nature.” In his speech to the General Court in 1645, Governor John Winthrop defined “natural liberty”—as distinguished from “civil liberty”—as a “liberty to do evil as well as good the exercise and maintaining of [which] makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts. . .
Hawthorne, himself a descendant of Puritan witch hunters and a member of New England society, the moral standards of which had been strongly conditioned by its Puritan heritage, was obsessed with the nature of sin and with the psychological results of violating the taboos imposed by this system. Young Goodman Brown dramatizes the neurosis resulting from such a violation.
After his night in the forest he becomes a walking guilt complex, burdened
with anxiety and doubt. Why? Because he has not been properly educated
to confront the realities of the external world or of the inner world,
because from the cradle on he has been indoctrinated with admonitions against
tasting the forbidden fruit, and because sin and Satan have been inadvertently
glamorized by prohibition, he has developed a morbid compulsion to taste
of them. He is not necessarily evil; he is, like most young people, curious.
But because of the severity of Puritan taboos about natural impulses, his
curiosity has become an obsession. His dramatic reactions in the forest
are typical of what happens in actual cases of extreme repression. Furthermore,
the very nature of his wilderness fantasy substantiates Freud’s theory
that our repressed desires express themselves in our dreams, that dreams
are symbolic forms of wish fulfillment. Hawthorne, writing more than a
generation before Freud, was a keen enough psychologist to be aware of
many of the same phenomena Freud was to systematize through clinical evidence.
Mythological and Archetypal Approaches
Carl Gustav Jung (sometime Freud protege) became one of the foremost mythologists of our time. Mythology is wider in scope than psychology. For example, what psychoanalysis attmpts to disclose about the individual personality, the study of myths reveals about the mind and personality, the study of myths reveals about the mind and character of a people. And just as dreams reflect the unconscious desires and anxieties of the individual, so myths are the symbolic projections of a people's hopes, values, fears and aspirations.
...Myth reflects a more profound reality. ....Myth is fundamental, the dramataic representation of our deepest instinctual life, of a primary awareness of man in the universe, capable of many configurations, upon which all opinions and attitudes depend" (29) ... Myth is defined as complex stories ...demonstrations of the inner meaning of the universe and of human life" (7)
Archetypes are those symbols which carry the same or very similar meanings
for a large portion, if not all, of mankind. It is a discoverable
fact that certain symbols, such as the sky father and earth mother, light,
blood, up-down, the axis of a wheel, and others recur again and again in
cultures so remote from one another in space and time that there is no
likelihood of any historical influence and causal connection among them.
(111) Archetypal images include water, sun, colors, shapes,
animals (such as snakes), numbers, etc.
2. “Young Goodman Brown”: A Failure of Individuation
The literary relevance of Jung’s theory of shadow, anima, and persona
may be seen in an analysis of Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown.”
In the first place, Brown’s persona is both false and inflexible. It is
the social mask of a God-fearing, prayerful, self-righteous Puritan—the
persona of a good man with all its pietistic connotations. Brown considers
himself both the good Christian and the good husband marned to a “blessed
angel on earth.” In truth, however, he is much less the good man than the
bad boy His behavior from
start to finish is that of the adolescent male. His desertion of his wife, for example, is motivated by his juvenile compulsion to have one last fling as a moral Peeping Tom. His failure to recognize himself (and his own base motives) when he confronts Satan—his shadow—is merely another indication of his spiritual immaturity.
Just as his persona has proved inadequate in mediating between Brown’s ego and the external world, so his anima fails in relating to his inner world. It is only fitting that his soul-image or anima should be named Faith. His trouble is that he sees Faith not as a true wifely companion but as a mother (Jung points out that, during childhood, anima is usually projected on the mother), as is revealed when he thinks that he will “cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.” In other words, if a young man’s Faith has the qualities of the Good Mother, then he might expect to be occasionally indulged in his juvenile escapades. But mature faith, like marriage, is a covenant that binds both parties mutually to uphold its sacred vows. If one party breaks this covenant, as Goodman Brown does, he must face the unpleasant consequences: at worst, separation and divorce; at best, suspicion (perhaps Faith herself has been unfaithful), loss of harmony, trust, and peace of mind. It is the latter consequences that Brown has to face. Even then, he still behaves like a child. Instead of admitting to his error and working maturely for a reconciliation, he sulks.
In clinical terms, young Goodman Brown suffers from a failure of personality integration. He has been stunted in his psychological growth (individuation) because he is unable to confront his shadow, recognize it as a part of his own psyche, and assimilate it into his consciousness. He persists, instead, in projecting the shadow image: first, in the form of the Devil; then on the members of his community (Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, and others); and, finally on Faith herself (his anima), so that ultimately, in his eyes, the whole world is one of shadow, or gloom. As Jung explains in Psyche and Symbol, the results of such projections are often disastrous for the individual:
The effect of projection is to isolate the subject from his environment, since instead of a real relation to it there is now only an illusory one. Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face. . . . The resultant [malaise is in] turn explained by projection as the malevolence of the environment, and by means of this vicious circle the isolation is intensified. The more projections interpose themselves between the subject and the environment, the harder it becomes for the ego to see through its illusions. [Note Goodman Brown’s inability to distinguish between reality and his illusory dream in the forest.]
It is often tragic to see how blatantly a man bungles his own life and the lives of others yet remains totally incapable of seeing how much the whole tragedy originates in himself, and how he continually feeds it and keeps it going. Not consciously, of course-for consciously he is engaged in bewailing and cursing afaithless [our italics] world that recedes further and further into the distance. Rather, it is an unconscious factor which spins the illusions that veil his world. And what is being spun is a cocoon, which in the end will completely envelop him. (9)
Jung could hardly have diagnosed Goodman Brown’s malady more accurately
had he been directing these comments squarely at Hawthorne’s story. That
he was generalizing adds impact to his theory as well as to Hawthorne’s
3. Syntheses of Jung and Anthropology
As we can see from our interpretation of “Young Goodman Brown,” the
application of Jungian theory to literary analysis is likely to be closer
to the psychological than to the mythological approach. We should therefore
realize that most of the myth critics who use Jung’s insights also use
the materials of anthropology. A classic example of this kind of mythological
eclecticism is Maud Bodkin’s Archetypal Patterns in Poetry, first published
in 1934 and now recognized as the pioneer work of archetypal criticism.
Bodkin acknowledges her debt to Gilbert Murray and the anthropological
scholars, as well as to Jung. She then proceeds to trace several major
archetypal patterns through the great literature of Western civilization
(for example, rebirth in Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”; heaven-hell
in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Milton’s Paradise
Lost; the image of woman as reflected in Homer’s Thetis, Euripides’s Phaedra,
Eve). The same kind of critical synthesis may be found in subsequent mythological studies like Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism, in which literary criticism, with the support of in-sights provided by anthropology and Jungian psychology, promises to become a new “social science.”
One of the best of these myth studies is James Baird’s Ishmael: A Study
of the Symbolic Mode in Primitivism. Baird’s approach derives not only
from Jung and the anthropologists but also from such philosophers as Susanne
Langer and Mircea Eliade. Though he ranges far beyond the works of Herman
Melville, Baird’s primary objective is to find an archetypal key to the
multilayered meanings of Mob y-Dick (which, incidentally, Jung considered
“the greatest American novel”). He finds this key in primitive mythology,
specifically in the myths of Polynesia to which young Melville had been
exposed during his two years of sea duty in the South Pacific. (Melville’s
early success as a writer was largely due to his notoriety as the man who
had lived for a month among the cannibals of Taipi.) Melville’s literary
primitivism is authentic, unlike the sentimental primitivism of such writers
as Rousseau, says Baird, because he had absorbed certain Asian archetypes
or “life symbols” and then transformed these creatively into “auto-types”
(that is, individualized personal symbols).
C. Men, Women, and the Loss of Faith in "Young Goodman Brown”
From a feminist point of view, Nathaniel Hawthorne was unusual for his time in that his portraits of women go against the prevailing literary sexism of his day. Despite his comment that he was tired of competing with the “mob of scribbling women writing romance novels, he generally used women not just as symbols of wholeness and goodness, as they are often pictured, but as possessing knowledge that approaches that of the author and narrator. Hawthorne also treated women with more realism and depth than did most other writers, especially male writers. This became an important legacy to other writers, particularly Henry James and William Faulkner, who also portray women as powerful moral agents.
Hawthorne’s most interesting women characters are Hester Prynne and Pearl of The Scarlet Letter, Zenobia of The Blithedale Romance, Hepzibah Pyncheon of The House of the Seven Gables, Miriam of The Marble Faun, Georgiana Aylmer of “The Birthmark,” and Beatrice Rappaccini of “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” All these women engage in conflict with the men in their lives and all of them have the sympathy—to varying degrees—of the author. Hester is Hawthorne’s greatest creation of a character, male or female, and from the lips of the magnificent Zenobia, Hawthorne gives us as eloquent a speech on women’s rights as was ever penned.
However, Faith Brown of “Young Goodman Brown” is not a three-dimensional character. With her allegorical name and small role in the story, readers might be likely to overlook her significance. But, in fact, the story centers on her—more specifically, on her husband’s rejection of her. The tale is a psychosexual parable of the rejection of the feminine in favor of the father-figure symbolized by the Devil. Good and evil are thus engendered qualities in the story. Hawthorne’s sympathies are with the woman and not with the misconstrued masculinity of the rigid Brown, whose failure is his rejection of his wife’s sexuality in favor of some unstated allure in the forest. What he finds there is a frightening masculine figure who actually resembles his own father. Rejecting the feminine, Brown gives up his adult sexuality in favor of a regression to powerlessness at the mercy of a Terrible Father.
The sexual aspect of Brown’s mission is indicated in the repeated mentions of the women who will be present at the witch meeting, from Goody Cloyse and the governor’s wife to the most spent of prostitutes. It is important that Brown learned his religion from Goody Cloyse, and that when he wonders whether he is hurting Faith by continuing his wilderness journey, the Devil produces Goody Cloyse to make Brown suspect women. Goody Cloyse says she is attending the ceremony to see a man, while the men on horseback Brown overhears seem to be drawn there to see the women whom they expect. Sex is certainly at the heart of things: the Devil’s snaky staff is an appropriate phallic symbol, and the ritual itself turns out to be a black mass. But the general tone is far from a celebration of male and female sexuality; women are victimized in this story. Significantly, the Devil mentions his having helped Brown’s grandfather persecute Quaker women in Salem.
Women are seen by Brown as either innocents or temp-tresses, from Martha Carrier, a “rampant hag” who “had received the devil’s promise to be queen of hell” to the seemingly unspotted maidens who crowd around the evil altar. To Brown, sex with women is alluring but deadly, and this is reinforced by the juxtaposition of the bloody basin and Brown’s paleness at the altar of unholy communion. When he sees his wife at the altar, he sees her only as a “polluted wretch.”
Of course, in the end, Brown is the one polluted; as the narrator tells
us, he is the most “frightful” figure in the forest, and he returns home
to rebuke and frighten his wife. We are told that his “hoary corpse” is
carried to his grave followed by his wife and his children and grandchildren,
and instead of shuddering at his gloomy death, one shudders instead to
think that Faith and her children lived all those empty years with his
blighted self, a failed husband and father.
Cultural Studies Approach, Criticism of Young Goodman Brown
Including American Multiculturalism [Any ethnic point of view is valid. We don't have to see things from the white, anglo-saxon, judeo christian point of view any more.]
The Cultural Studies approach has four goals.
1. Cultural studies transcends the confines of a particular discipline such as literary criticism or history ....intellectual works cannot and should not stop at the borders of single texts, historical problems or disciplines; the critic's own connections to what is analyzed are actually part of the analysis.
2. Cultural studies is politically engaged. ....this moves aesthetics and culture from the ideal realms of taste and sensibility into the arena of a whole society's everyday life, of its common "constructions."
3. Cultural studies denies the separation of "high" and "low" or elite and popular culture. Bringing the university into contact with the public.
4. Cultural studies analyzes not only the cultural work that is produced but also the means of production..
C. "The Lore of Fiends”: Hawthorne and His Market
Earlier in this chapter we noted that a cultural studies approach sometimes concerns itself not only with the cultural work that is produced but also with the means of production. We noted that questions of supporting the author, of finding a publisher, and even of marketing the particular work are germane to the cultural milieu in which the work is produced.
Our present question is this: under what conditions and in what frame
of mind did the younger Hawthorne handle such challenges? The answer to
that question involves a review of two areas: (1) his thoughts and actions
during the middle third of the nineteenth century, and (2) the world of
American publication at the time.
“Young Goodman Brown” was one of Hawthorne’s first published tales. It appeared in The New England Magazine in 1835, but it existed in draft perhaps as early as 1829. We can get some insight into his wrestling with his identity as an author if we first look at a passage that occurs early in The Scarlet Letter, the first and most successful of his four book-long romances. To be sure, that work was published in 1850, but the questions in his mind then pertain to the earlier work as well. In the “Custom House” section that serves as the frame for The Scarlet Letter, there is a lengthy meditation on how the writer’s Puritan forebears would have scorned his choice to be “an idler” instead of following in the footsteps of his first “grave, bearded, sable-cloaked, and steeple-crowned progenitor[s]”:
No aim, that I have ever cherished, would they recognize as laudable; no success of mine-if my life, beyond its domestic scope, had ever been brightened by success—would they deem otherwise than worthless, if not positively disgraceful. “What was he?” murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to the other. “A writer of story-books! What kind of business in life,— what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation,—may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!”
In his anxieties about authorship, Hawthorne takes up the position of
“editor” of The Scarlet Letter rather than author, for then he may protect
both the reader’s and his own “rights” and “keep the inmost Me behind its
If Hawthorne seemed to suggest that he had a sense of guilt about being the equivalent of “a fiddler” in 1850, what were his feelings even earlier? The answer to this question takes us even closer to how the economic milieu of publication at this time may have influenced his selection of material. In fact, we may be getting into what a Marxist approach might call “production theory.”
Hawthorne published his first story, “The Hollow of the Three Hills,” a witchcraft tale, in The Salem Gazette, his hometown newspaper, in 1830. For the next twenty years, he wrote brief fictions and published them anonymously, except for periods in which he did not write at all, having to work as an editor, as a clerk in custom houses, and as a member of the utopian colony Brook Farm in 1841. During this period nearly a hundred of his tales appeared in print, but then his interest in these short pieces dropped completely when he produced his first full-length romance, The Scarlet Letter (1850). He was embarrassed by his “trifles,” as he called his short stories; he felt guilty for having wasted his time on them because, as he wrote in his preface to Mosses from an Old Manse, they did not “evolve some deep lesson” (Hawthorne, in Pearce 1124). He was also weary of his obscurity in producing only “fitful sketches . . . but half in earnest” (1148—49). Often he would not even put his name on them, but would sign them as “by the Author of” a previous tale. His depiction of the “romantic Solitary” in several of his tales is in a way the depiction of the American writer in the changing literary market of the 1830s and 1840s.
Hawthorne wrote “Young Goodman Brown” while living as a recluse—a “romantic
Solitary”—in his mother’s house. Having graduated from Bowdoin College,
he had as yet no income; he was a young man longing for the way up and
out. But the way out was also the way into something—in the Puritan sense,
evil, the self, and its curse of writing. An equation seems to be developed
between writing and the devil’s work:
“But authors are always poor devils, and therefore Satan may take them,” Hawthorne told his mother. In his early tale “The Devil in Manuscript,” Oberon, a “damned author,” confronts “the fiend” in his works. Burning his manuscripts, he accidentally sets fire to his village, screaming into the conflagration, “I will cry out in the loudest spirit with the wildest of the confusion.” Oberon, it is important to note, was a name Hawthorne used for himself in college (it also appears in “Fragments from the Journal of a Solitary Man,” published in 1837).
In addition to the burden of his self-doubt and guilt at even being an artist—a “fiddler”—it was a difficult marketplace Hawthorne entered. What would he produce? Who would buy? Because there were no international copyright laws, American publishers would pirate and sell popular British novelists of the day, which made it doubly hard for American writers to succeed. Americans felt they had to copy British forms. However, some were brave enough not to do so. For example, Herman Melville in his review “Hawthorne and His Mosses” (1850) recognizes a fellow explorer of the murkier haunts of human psychology who is willing to experiment, a man who will “say NO in thunder” to those who wish to suppress or disguise the darkness within. Melville thus identifies one of the main reasons for Hawthorne’s greatness—his willingness to return, however ambivalently, again and again to the forbidden topics that interested him, whether they would sell or not.
Another marketplace concern Hawthorne had to face was that most of his
readers and competitors were women. Such authors as Harriet Beecher Stowe
and Catherine Sedgwick supplied the public demand for sentimental, domestic
themes. Though Hawthorne created powerful female characters and seemed
to regard the artistic nature as a somewhat feminized one apart from the
world of male action, he was misunderstood by some as merely sentimental.
His fascination with the feminine actually took on an archetypal dimension,
one that in its way allowed him to explore his own “darkness” right under
the noses of readers like the contemporary Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller,
who misunderstood him. Almost a century later, the English author D. H.
Lawrence got closer to Hawthorne’s true themes: “You must look through
the surface of American art, and see the inner diabolism of the symbolic
meaning. Otherwise it is all mere childishness. That blue-eyed darling
Nathaniel knew disagreeable things in his inner soul. He was careful to
send them out in disguise” (83).
Still another marketplace issue figures into Hawthorne’s expressions of “inner diabolism.” This particular ingredient became the key to Hawthorne’s contemporary success and to his long-standing fame. For Hawthorne did find a sensational subject that was guaranteed to sell: exposure of utopian reformers and ministers, so visible in mid-nineteenth-century America, and so clearly a figure that conjoined his own sense of guilt and his attitudes toward the feminine-a connection shared to some extent by his culture. The sunlit as well as the sardonic sides of Hawthorne’s authorial persona had ample opportunity for exercise when he wrote about the Puritan village of the seventeenth century, as seen in “Young Goodman Brown,” and about the utopian community of the nineteenth, as seen in Brook Farm, among others.
In his comments on Brook Farm and in his treatment of reformists and millennialism, Hawthorne seems to have been taking aim at “perfectionism” as formulated by the French socialist Charles Fourier. Evidence for this view seems to be provided by the exploitation of two women, and the suicide of one, in The Blithedale Romance, and by the treatment of Hester Prynne in the seemingly utopian Puritan society. The dark events of “Young Goodman Brown” are in keeping with these concerns evidenced in the later romances as well as in this story. Hawthorne’s linking of diabolism and reformism points to deep divisions within himself and within his nineteenth-century world.
From a cultural studies perspective, the contexts and sources of the literary work fill out the picture of literary production. In this instance, we can look at the other texts in the 1835 issue of The New England Magazine which contained “Young Goodman Brown,” for they also appealed to the public’s interest in social reform and its critics. Among the other works were fiction and poetry, the occasional travel essay, political analyses, and other popular genres. Among them appear examples of what is known as “dark reform” writing. “Dark reform” writings, also known as “immoral didacticism,” might be descriptions of, for example, the horrors of prostitution or fornication, but in their tendency to dwell upon the lewdness of their subjects, they themselves become pornographic. This dichotomy has a parallel in Hawthorne. David Reynolds has identified a mixture in Hawthorne’s early fiction “which manifests an almost schizophrenic split” between what Reynolds calls the Conventional and the Subversive; the works may “exemplify the post-Gothic, Subversive Hawthorne, obsessed by themes like fruitless quests, nagging guilt, crime, perversity, and so forth,” and they might also employ conventional “simplified piety, patriotic history, comforting angelic visions, domestic bliss, and regenerating childhood purity” (114). Not until the great tales of the 1835—36 period, including “Young Goodman Brown,” do we find Hawthorne bringing these opposing cultural forces together with mythopoeic power.
One of the most characteristic figures in dark reform writing was the secretly sinful churchgoer or the satanic preacher, the “reverend rake” (Reynolds 253—54, 262). In “Young Goodman Brown,” this familiar figure is cast as a preacher, and we recall the almost lurid ways that the satanic figure speaks: he is at once chillingly diabolic and tantalizingly seductive. In that 1835 issue of New England Magazine, such a figure appears in an essay called “Atheism in New England.” The essayist takes a dim view of literary freedoms assumed by utopian reformers, and urges the “good men” of New England to defend “the morals, the laws, and the order of society” against the devilish reform activities of the “Infidel Party.” The “Free Inquirers” are associated with “licentious indulgence,” misdirection of youth, and avoidance of the conventional warnings of conscience; they “strive to spread doctrines, so subversive to morality, and destructive of social order . . .“ (Reynolds 54—56). There is further salivating about sexual freedom, “gratification of animal desire,” and books “which are sold for filthy lucre by the priest.” It is easy to forget that this essay, like “Young Goodman Brown,” was not written during Puritan times but nearly two hundred years later.
In other words, sensationalism titillates, and it sells. In the midst of a publishing world that made it difficult for an American author to be rewarded on the basis of his own in-sights and skills; in a time when women writers and women readers were dominant; in a time when Hawthorne was wrestling, first, with being a writer at all, and, second, with his bent to inquire into the deep recesses of the individual and into the reformist societies of his day—in the midst of all this, Hawthorne was finding his own voice and themes that made him a successful author, with both a product to sell and a body of work that speaks across the generations. Within that body of work, no story speaks more eloquently or dramatically to Hawthorne’s obsession with the nature of evil—the “power of blackness”—and his awareness of the marketplace than does “Young Goodman Brown.”
And now here is our Puritan Allegory, Young Goodman Brown...
YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN
Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem Village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap while she called to Goodman Brown.
“Dearest heart,” whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, “prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afeard of herself sometimes. Pray tarry wifh me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year.”
“My love and my Faith,” replied young Goodman Brown, “of all nights
in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as
thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done ‘twixt now and
sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we
but three months married?”
“Then God bless you!” said Faith, with the pink ribbons; “and may you find all well when you come back.”
“Amen!” cried Goodman Brown. “Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee.”
So they parted; and the young man pursued his way until, being about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the head of Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink ribbons.
“Poor little Faith!” thought he, for his heart smote him. “What a wretch am Ito leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done to-night. But no, no; ‘twould kill her to think it. Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.”
With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. 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. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.
“There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,” said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!”
His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and, looking forward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire, seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose at Goodman Brown’s approach and walked onward side by side with him.
“You are late, Goodman Brown,” said he. “The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutes agone.”
“Faith kept me back a while,” replied the young man, with a tremor in his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though not wholly unexpected.
It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of it where these two were journeying. As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveller was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than features. Still they might have been taken for father and son. And yet, though the elder person was as simply clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and who would not have felt abashed at the governor’s dinner table or in King William’s court, were it possible that his affairs should call him thither. But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.
“Come, Goodman Brown,” cried his fellow-traveller, “this is a dull pace for the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you are so soon weary.
“Friend,” said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop, “having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples touching the matter thou wot’st of.”
“Sayest thou so?” replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. “Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet.”
“Too far! too far!” exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept—”
“Such company, thou wouldst say,” observed the elder person, interpreting his pause. “Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that’s no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you for their sake.”
“If it be as thou sayest,” replied Goodman Brown, “I marvel they never spoke of these matters; or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the least rumor of the sort would have driven them from New England. We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness.”
“Wickedness or not,” said the traveller with the twisted staff, “I have a very general acquaintance here in New England. The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen of divers towns make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too— But these are state secrets.”
“Can this be so?” cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at
his undisturbed companion. “Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor
and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman
like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that
good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make
me tremble both Sabbath day and lecture day."
Thus far the elder traveller had listened with due gravity; but now burst into a fit of irrepressible mirth, shaking himself so violently that his snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.
“Ha! ha! ha!” shouted he again and again; then composing himself, “Well, go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but, prithee, don’t kill me with laughing.”
“Well, then, to end the matter at once,” said Goodman Brown, considerably nettled, “there is my wife, Faith. It would break her dear little heart; and I’d rather break my own.”
“Nay, if that be the case,” answered the other, “e’en go thy ways, Goodman Brown. I would not for twenty old women like the one hobbling before us that Faith should come to any harm."
As he spoke he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path, in whom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin.
“A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness at nightfall,” said he. “But with your leave, friend, I shall take a cut through the woods until we have left this Christian woman behind. Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with and whither I was going.”
“Be it so,” said his fellow-traveller. “Betake you to the woods, and let me keep the path.”
Accordingly the young man turned aside, but took care to watch his companion,
who advanced softly along the road until he had come within a staff’s length
of the old dame. She, meanwhile, was making the best of her way, with singular
speed for so aged a woman, and mumbling some indistinct words—a prayer,
doubtless—as she went. The traveller put forth his staff and touched her
withered neck with what seemed the serpent’s tail.
“The devil!” screamed the pious old lady.
“Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?” observed the traveller, confronting her and leaning on his writhing stick.
“Ah, forsooth, and is it your worship indeed?” cried the good dame. “Yea, truly it is, and in the very image of my old gossip, Goodman Brown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is. But—would your worship believe it?—my broomstick hath strangely disappeared, stolen, as I suspect, by that unhanged witch, Goody Cory, and that, too, when I was anointed with the juice of smallage, and cinquefoil, and wolf’s bane-”
“Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe,” said the shape of old Goodman Brown.
“Ah, your worship knows the recipe,” cried the old lady, cackiing aloud. “So, as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting, and no horse to ride on, I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell me there is a nice young man to be taken into communion to-night. But now your good worship will lend me your arm, and we shall be there in a twinkiing.”
“That can hardly be,” answered her friend. “I may not spare you my arm, Goody Cloyse; but here is my staff, if you will.”
So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. He had cast up his eyes in astonishment, and, looking down again, beheld neither Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow-traveller alone, who waited for him as calmly as if nothing happened.
“That old woman taught me my catechism,” said the young man; and there was a world of meaning in this simple comment.
They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveller exhorted his companion to make good speed and persevere m the path, discoursing so aptly that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of his auditor than to be suggested by himself. As they went, he plucked a branch of maple to serve for a walking stick, and began to strip it of the twigs and little boughs, which were wet with evening dew. The moment his fingers touched them they became strangely withered and dried up as with a week’s sunshine. Thus the pair proceeded, at a good free pace, until suddenly, in a gloomy hollow of the road, Goodman Brown sat himself down on the stump of a tree and refused to go any farther.
“Friend,” said he, stubbornly, “my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven: is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?”
“You will think better of this by and by,” said his acquaintance, composedly. “Sit here and rest yourself a while; and when you feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along.”
Without more words, he threw his companion the maple stick, and was as speedily out of sight as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom. The young man sat a few moments by the roadside, applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister in his morning walk, nor shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin. And what calm sleep would be his that very night, which was to have been spent so wickedly, but so purely and sweetly now, in the arms of Faith! Amidst these pleasant and praiseworthy meditations, Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now so happily turned from it.
On came the hoof tramps and the voices of the riders, two grave old voices, conversing soberly as they drew near. These mingled sounds appeared to pass along the road, within a few yards of the young man’s hiding-place; but, owing doubtless to the depth of the gloom at that particular spot, neither the travellers nor their steeds were visible. Though their figures brushed the small boughs by the wayside, it could not be seen that they intercepted, even for a moment, the faint gleam from the strip of bright sky athwart which they must have passed. Goodman Brown alternately crouched and stood on tiptoe, pulling aside the branches and thrusting forth his head as far as he durst without discerning so much as a shadow. It vexed him the more, because he could have sworn, were such a thing possible, that he recognized the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along quietly, as they were wont to do, when bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council. While yet within hearing, one of the riders stopped to pluck a switch.
“Of the two, reverend sir,” said the voice like the deacon’s, “I had rather miss an ordination dinner than to-night’s meeting. They tell me that some of our community are to be here from Falmouth and beyond, and others from Connecticut and Rhode Island, besides several of the Indian powwows, who, after their fashion, know almost as much deviltry as the best of us. Moreover, there is a goodly young woman to be taken into communion.”
“Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!” replied the solemn old tones of the minister. “Spur up, or we shall be late. Nothing can be done, you know, until I get on the ground.”
The hoofs clattered again; and the voices, talking so strangely in the empty air, passed on through the forest, where no church had ever been gathered or solitary Christian prayed. Whither, then, could these holy men be journeying so deep into the heathen wilderness? Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree for support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him. Yet there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening in it.
“With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the
devil!” cried Goodman Brown.
While he still gazed upward into the deep arch of the firmament and had lifted his hands to pray, a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried across the zenith and hid the brightening stars. The blue sky was still visible, except directly overhead, where this black mass of cloud was sweeping swiftly northward. Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices. Once the listener fancied that he could distinguish the accents of townspeople of his own, men and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion table, and had seen others rioting at the tavern. The next moment, so in-
distinct were the sounds, he doubted whether he had heard aught but the murmur of the old forest, whispering without a wind. Then came a stronger swell of those familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine at Salem village, but never until now from a cloud of night. There was one voice, of a young woman, uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow, and entreating for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain; and all the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her onward.
“Faith!” shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying, “Faith! Faith!” as if bewildered wretches were seeking her all through the wilderness.
The cry of grief, rage, and terror was yet piercing the night, when the unhappy husband held his breath for a response. There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.
“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given.”
And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run. The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil. The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds—the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of Indians; while sometimes the wind tolled like a distant church bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveller, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn. But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors.
“Ha! ha! ha!” roared Goodman Brown when the wind laughed at him. “Let us hear which will laugh loudest. Think not to frighten me with your deviltry. Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you."
In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more
frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew among the black
pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to
an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth such laughter
as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The
fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast
of man. Thus sped the demoniac on his course, until, quivering among the
trees, he saw a red light before him, as when the felled trunks and branches
of a clearing have been set on fire, and throw up their lurid blaze against
the sky, at the hour of midnight. He paused, in a lull of the tempest that
had driven him onward, and heard the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling
solemnly from a distance with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune;
it was a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The verse
died heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human voices,
but of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness pealing in awful harmony
together. Goodman Brown cried out, and his cry was lost to his own ear
by its unison with the cry of the desert.
In the interval of silence he stole forward until the light glared full upon his eyes. At one extremity of an open space, hemmed m by the dark wall of the forest, arose a rock, bearing some rude, natural resemblance either to an altar or a pulpit, and surrounded by four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting. The mass of foliage that had overgrown the summit of the rock was all on fire, blazing high into the night and fitfully illuminating the whole field. Each pendent twig and leafy festoon was m a blaze. As the red light arose and fell, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow, and again grew, as it were, out of the darkness, peopling the heart of the solitary woods at once.
“A grave and dark-clad company,” quoth Goodman Brown. In truth they were such. Among them, quivering to and fro between gloom and splendor, appeared faces that would be seen next day at the council board of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land. Some affirm that the lady of the governor was there. At least there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled lest their mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of light flashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he recognized a score of the church members of Salem village famous for their special sanctity. Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived, and waited at the skirts of that venerable saint, his revered pastor. But, irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people, these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, there were men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches given over to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes. It was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints. Scattered also among their pale-faced enemies were the Indian priests, or powwows, who had often scared their native forest with more hideous incantations than any known to English witchcraft.
“But where is Faith!” thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came into his heart, he trembled.
Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such as the pious love, but joined to the words which expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin, and darkiy hinted at far more. Unfathomable to mere mortals is the lore of fiends. Verse after verse was sung; and still the chorus of the desert swelled between like the deepest tone of a mighty organ; and with the final peal of that dreadful anthem there came a sound, as if the roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howling beasts, and every other voice of the unconverted wilderness were mingling and according with the voice of guilty man in homage to the prince of all. The four blazing pines threw up a loftier flame, and obscurely discovered shapes and visages of horror on the smoke wreaths above the impious assembly. At the same moment the fire on the rock shot redly forth and formed a glowing arch above its base, where now appeared a figure. With reverence be it spoken, the apparition bore no slight similitude, both in garb and manner, to some grave divine of the New England churches.
“Bring forth the converts!” cried a voice that echoed through the field and rolled into the forest.
At the word, Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the trees and approached the congregation, with whom he felt a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart. He could have well-nigh sworn that the shape of his own dead father beckoned him to advance, looking downward from a smoke wreath, while a woman, with dim features of despair, threw out her hand to warn him back. Was it his mother? But he had no power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought, when the minister and good old Deacon Gookin seized his arms and led him to the blazing rock. Thither came also the slender form of a veiled female, led between Goody Cloyse, that pious teacher of the catechism, and Martha Carrier, who had received the devil’s promise to be queen of hell. A rampant hag was she. And there stood the proselytes beneath the canopy of fire.
“Welcome, my children,” said the dark figure, “to the communion of your race. Ye have found thus young your nature and your destiny. My children, look behind you!”
They turned; and flashing forth, as it were, in a sheet of flame, the fiend worshippers were seen; the smile of welcome gleamed darkiy on every visage.
“There,” resumed the sable form, “are all whom ye have reverenced from youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your own sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerful aspirations heavenward. Yet here are they all in my worshipping assembly. This night it shall be granted you to know their secret deeds: how hoary-bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eager for widows’ weeds, has given her husband a drink at bedtime and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom; how beardless youths have made haste to inherit their fathers’ wealth; and how fair damsels—blush not, sweet ones—have dug little graves in the garden, and bidden me, the sole guest, to an infant’s funeral. By the sympathy of your human hearts for sin ye shall scent out all the places—whether in church, bed-chamber, street, field, or forest where crime has been comitted, and shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood spot. Far more than this. It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than human power—than my power at its utmost—can make manifest in deeds. And now, my children, look upon each other.”
They did so; and, by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar.
“Lo, there ye stand, my children,” said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. “Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race.”
“Welcome,” repeated the fiend worshippers in one cry of despair and triumph.
And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world. A basin was hollowed, naturally, in the rock. Did it contain water, reddened by the lurid light? or was it blood? or, perchance, a liquid flame? Herein did the shape of evil dip his hand and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be of their own. The husband cast one look at his pale wife, and Faith at him. What polluted wretches would the next glance show them to each other, shuddering alike at what they disclosed and what they saw!
“Faith! Faith!” cried the husband, “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one.”
Whether Faith obeyed he knew not. Hardly had he spoken when he found
himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind which
died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against the rock, and
felt it chill and damp; while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire,
besprinkied his cheek with the coldest dew.
The next morning young Goodman Brown came slowly in to the street of Salem village, staring around him like a bewildered man. The good old minister was taking a walk along the graveyard to get an appetite for breakfast and meditate his sermon, and bestowed a blessing, as he passed, on Goodman Brown. He shrank from the venerable saint as if to avoid an anathema. Old Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship, and the holy words of his prayer were heard through the open window. “What God doth the wizard pray to?” quoth Goodman Brown. Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian, stood in the early sunshine at her own lattice, catechizing a little girl who had brought her a pint of morning’s milk. Goodman Brown snatched away the child as from the grasp of the fiend himself. Turning the corner by the meeting-house, he spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him that she skipped along the street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting.
Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild
dream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so if you will; but, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream. On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit with power and fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the open Bible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable, then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers. Often, awaking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away. And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.