“Revealing the Mistakes of Puritanism”
Proverbs 10:28 implies the idea of the universality of sin in saying “The prospect of the
righteous is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.” In “Young Goodman Brown”,
Nathaniel Hawthorne illustrates this through Brown’s actions. When Brown lives a righteous
life with good faith, his thoughts remain pure and happy. He has a wonderful wife, and he
enjoys the presence of everyone. As he takes his walk into the forest and into evil ways, his
hopes and faith disappear. He no longer loves his wife in the same way, and he despises
everyone whom people consider were holy. When he loses his faith, he loses his happiness. To
regain his happiness, Brown must find his righteousness again. Puritans believe there is no hope
for a sinner. Hawthorne uses a variety of writing techniques to condemn the rigidity of
Puritanism.
For example, Hawthorne uses a wide variety of diction to create a mystical and hopeless
mood. As Brown walks into the “dreary” forest, an “uncertain” feeling comes over him as he
looks ahead to the “gloom” awaiting him. The forest is very dark and dreary and these words
help create the eerie mood. These words create an insecure and unsure feeling in the reader’s
mind. The reader feels as if he stands right there on the outskirts of the forest along with Brown.
That type of feeling scares even the bravest of men. Hawthorne also describes the events taking
place in the forest as “devilish,” “horrid,” and “evil.” Evil completely surrounds Brown in the
forest. It puts a thought in him which drives him crazy. These words give a very insecure
feeling to the reader. No one likes the feeling of evil, which Hawthorne portrays all throughout
the story. The evil feeling adds to the dreary mood, and it also gives a hopeless feeling to the
reader. Nothing good comes out of evil, and these words tell the reader that something horrible
might happen. He then describes Brown as “stern,” or “sad,” or even a “desperate man,” who
needs help. Brown’s experiences horrify him. They eventually change him to a stern and sad
man. He can never see his friends and loved ones the same. When you think of hopelessness,
disparity often comes to mind. Brown feels desperate and hopeless about his future. He doesn’t
know what to do about this nightmare. The thought of losing his wonderful past frightens him.
Also, symbolism plays a large role in promoting the idea of universal capacity for sin.
For instance, the name alone of Young Goodman Brown stands for every Puritan man. He, like
all others, must eventually face sin. Brown’s wife Faith also represents belief in Calvinism.
When his passion and love for his wife rage like a fire, his faith rages as well. Both his faith and
love change throughout the story. Faith’s pink ribbons stand for the attractive guarantee of
salvation. The red for sin, and the white for purity. When these ribbons fall to the ground, his
faith has essentially hit rock bottom. Also, the traveler that Brown meets reflects the devil. In
earlier years he walks with both Brown’s parents and grandparents. His serpentine staff suggests
evil. As the two walk down the path into the forest, more symbolism occurs. The path
represents the way of life. Brown can either turn around and go back the right way towards God,
or he can stay with the traveler and walk into the forest of evil. The forest implies evil and
temptation in the sense that darkness and the feeling of seclusion surround him, and if Brown
loses his way, it is extremely difficult to find his way back. Also, the peers of Brown such as the
minister, Goody Cloyse, and Deacon Gookin symbolize the leadership of the Puritan church.
They represent hypocrisy as well. The leaders of the church have a great deal of respect and
admiration, yet they take part in the witches’ Sabbath and other evil acts. Hence, the entire
Puritan church reflects hypocrisy due to these trusted leaders.
Lastly, Hawthorne uses characterization to show the different impacts his journey has on
his life. He denies himself the companionship of his friends and neighbors. As he walks down
the street, he “shrinks from the minister as if to avoid anathema,” he “snatches away a child from
Goody Cloyse,” and he “wonders what god Deacon Gookin” prays to. Brown sees the minister
on the street, and he tries to hide himself.