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ng Goodman Brown Young Goodman Brown essaysYoung Goodman Brown: Ambiguities
The Young Goodman Brown In this story, we as readers are presented with a seemingly easy narrative to interpret. Closer reading, however, reveals two critical ambiguities that may be interpreted at least two different ways. First, why does young goodman Brown go into the forest, and second, is the trip into the forest reality or an illusion?
There are two ways to interpret why goodman Brown went into the forest. First, we can assume he went into the forest as a sort of initiation or kind of religious rite of passage (. . . “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”). It seems this “covenant” is a pact all good colonists respect, and the religious connotation of the very word “covenant” seems to exemplify this. The devil then procedes to list the others who have taken this journey with him, yet those he lists are those who succumbed to him. Why did he not list his failures to “convert”? Perhaps listing only sucesses, including goodman Brown’s ancestors, the devil hopes to solidify his future with goodman Brown.
Why else could goodman Brown have gone into the forest? Perhaps it is nothing more than Hawthorne’s commentary on the attitudes of the times. In this case, we would need no explanation as to why, but only to accept it as a situation which Hawthorne utilizes to expose the faults in all of mankind, including the self professed pious. His commentary on the witch trials is apparent, as goody Cloyse recognizes the devil, and the recipe for annointment that includes “the fat of a newborn babe.” Exactly who are the criminals here or those who are indignant with God? Is it those who appear wicked or those who truly are? Perhaps Hawthorne simply chose a setting and wrote the story around it; therefore the exact reason as to why goodman Brown went into the forest is insignificant. The point is he is there, and goodman Brown (as well as the reader) learns to suspect those who point a finger, and realize that nothing is as it seems.
Of course, this opens the discussion to another question: is the story really happening? One argument could answer affirmatively. There is no concrete evidence of a dream state, as the story opens with “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem village . . .” By all accounts, young goodman Brown sets forth upon a “journey forth and back again,” a definite beginning and end. But what is unclear is the middle. Once in the forest, the reader begins to doubt whether or not what goodman Brown experiences is in the physical world, save for the companion traveller. Goodman Brown encounters villagers who vanish (“. . . 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 had happened”), and walking staffs that take on serpentine qualities (“. . . his staff, which bore the resemblance of a great black snake . . . this must have been an ocular deception . . .”). The reader is swept into Hawthorne’s world where nothing is as it seems, and no one is above suspicion. Here, even Hawthorne seems unsure (“Had goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of witch meeting? Be it so if you will . . .”).
The point of the story is the nature of mankind, the inner struggle of good and evil, and the deceptiveness of appearances and even actions. Indiscrepancies are left to the reader to figure out for themselves.