In his short story Young Goodman Brown Nathaniel Hawthornes short stories is an intense critical scrutiny of the Puritan beliefs from a young mans perception of the evil nature of man. Moreover, his story is intensely symbolic and allegorized especially with Faith Browns beribboned bride who has received a lot of critics for her role in the entire narrative. Hawthornes story is set in the 17th Century Puritan Salem in Massachusetts. The story begins with Goodman Brown biding his newly wedded wife goodbye to embark on an overnight journey that as he says needed to be finished before sunrise. On his way to the forest, he meets an old man- the devil- with a serpent-shaped figure who invites him to walk with him and to take the stick because it would ease the journey. To his astonishment, the devil tells him that he is acquainted with Goodmans ancestors by helping them massacre Indians and punish religious dissenter (Hawthorne 10). Along the way, Brown meets Goody Cloyse, his catechism teacher who is also the devils acquaintance. In addition, in spite, her position in the church Brown realizes that she is a witch.
To Goodmans horror, he realizes from their conversation that this journey was meant to end up in a Black Mass in the forest. Moreover, on looking further, he recognizes that deacons and ministers from Salem attended. As he weaves through his thoughts about the good, evil and his beliefs only his wife thoughts-Faith- sustains him. However, when he begins to pray, he hears his wifes voice in the devils congregation and learns that she was about to be initiated into this party. In this party, there was a mixture of Salems most elect Puritans, and it is immoral, corrupt denizens who universally sang in the worship of the devil. Nonetheless, Brown prays for his wife to resist the devil and in that instance, he finds himself alone in the forest again (Hawthorne 15). The following morning he returns to Salem, and he disregarded everyone he meets on the way including his wife, Faith. His attitude comes from the knowledge that peoples true nature of hypocrisy. From that moment to his death Brown becomes a lonely, distrustful man who rejects both his religion and wife. Hawthorne narrates that Goodman died at a sorrowful hour.
Likewise, Hawthorne wrote another short story The Ministers Black Veil with the same theme of Puritan beliefs and culture but from a different perspective. In this story, the Puritans perceive their minister as one who is harboring great sin by wearing a veil over his face. His actions are meant to demonstrate righteousness. Instead, he suffers from extreme solitude as the town people for wearing a mask over his face reject him. From his veil people gossip and judge him but their actions, reveal the actual evil nature they harbor inside them. From both Reverend, Hooper and Goodmans perception towards sins shows that although they are both believers their responses towards sins are very different. Goodman unlike Hooper on learning about the omnipresent and irresistible evil that lurks in all human beings refused to acknowledge it and instead chose to live in suspiciously, doubting his faith, judging people because he has learned about their evil, and as a result, he died a very agonized man. On the other hand, Reverend Hooper covered his face to show that all people have a veil of sin covering them, and there is the need to uncover this sin acknowledge it and repent. This is a clear demonstration of one author's work but differing Puritan beliefs.
Reverend Hooper acted on his faith and donned a black veil as a simple message for people to acknowledge their sins. By so doing, he was calling for peoples attention in a bid to convince them that he being a reverend does not prevent him from being a human being. Every man is a being that has sins that are characterized by a tendency of keeping secrets amounting to acting sinfully and thinking indecently. Thus, his message was that for people to earn their heavenly reward they must lift their veils and reveal their faults to God, which could only be made possible by repentance. From his action Reverend, Hooper was able to impact on many people. In the short story, Hooper is regarded as a mysterious emblem that had an awful power over sinful and agonized souls (Hawthorne 10). Most converts expressed that they had been under the veil with him before they repented their sins and came to salvation.
Apparently, his preaching about hiding under the veil affected even those in high places like the legal institutions. In this story once, he was appointed to give the election sermon and with his face covered, he tackled issues of corruption in government systems. As a result, that year, the legislative measures were shaped by gloom and piety like all the earlier years of their state. Nonetheless, his congregation met his ambiguity with considerable discomfort. The first time he delivered a sermon in his veil he was regarded with suspicion, and then rumors started spreading that was hiding a secret sin under his veil. However, what disturbed his congregation most was that despite his veil Reverend Hooper never acted out of the ordinary (Hawthorne 23). Nonetheless, his veil alienated him from the other ordinary human beings. In his veil people could offer neither their sympathy nor their love because he had been separated from the cheerfulness of a Christian brother and a womans love which left his heart very saddened for the sin of man.
While Reverend Hooper used his found faith to change the lives of non-believers and make them change from their sinful ways Young Goodman opted to doubt his faith, judge those who are non-believers and reject those who were closest to him. Hawthornes idea of this story revolved around losing innocence. Goodman clings to his faith blindly like a child who believes that by being faithful entitles one to heaven. He refuses to acknowledge that people are made of a sinful nature. His journey to the forest confirms that people are neither innocent nor pure including his wife (Kiptiyah 4). The spiritual journey that was meant to mature him into a different level of faith but from his reactions it is revealed that he was not ready to embrace the truth and understand that evil surrounds him.
Instead of letting his faith do its work in this encounter, he doubts himself intensely considering that his catechism teacher, deacons, and ministers were part of the devils congregation. Self-doubt blinded his faith and bore suspicion that can partly be blamed on the Puritan beliefs, strict moral codes, and an overly emphasized sin. This rigidity and self-doubt of Puritanism prevented Brown from accepting the evil nature of people and the consequences of being in such a system of thought. Nonetheless, browns reaction reflects the life of a typical Puritan during his time and how hard it was hard to believe that sin was real, and this serves as an explanation for Browns reasons for being suspicious and distrustful of the other town people(Kiptiyah 4). Nevertheless, this short story clearly demonstrates that faith amidst distrust can never thrive.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Minister's Black Veil: Short Story. Place of publication not identified: HarperCollins Canada, 2014. Internet resource.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. Lanham: Start Publishing LLC, 2012. Internet resource.
Kiptiyah, Muflikhatul. A Study of The Figure of a Man in Nathaniel Hawthornes Young Goodman Brown. Diss. UIN Sunan Ampel Surabaya, 2014.
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