When a child is born, his family is there to welcome him into the world. Whether he knows it or not, this family will eventually mold his character, views, and faith. Although all parents try their best to successfully raise their children, even the most perfect of families cannot hide their deep, dark secrets forever. Raised as a Puritan, Nathaniel Hawthorne grew up with a devout family intensely immersed in religion. As he matured, Hawthorne discovered that his seemingly pious family was disturbingly flawed, a discovery that would radically change his life. In his short story “Young Goodman Brown,” Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Puritan family secrets aid in forming symbols of faith and evil and developing the inner complexities of his characters.
Hawthorne, the sixth generation in a family of American Puritans, was raised to strictly follow his religion. Born on July 4, 1804, Hawthorne spent most of his childhood years living in Salem, Massachusetts, the epicenter of Puritanism (Bio.com 1). On the surface, his family, the Hathornes, seemed kind and accepting. However, Nathaniel dug deeper and learned that his family’s connections to Puritanism were stronger than he could have imagined. Both William Hathorne, the family’s first American ancestor, and John Hathorne, Nathaniel’s great-great-grandfather, were involved in religious persecution. In fact, John Hathorne was one of three judges at the corrupt, biased Salem Witch Trials (European Graduate School 1). During these trials, several innocent people suspected of witchcraft were sentenced to death by the unethical legal system. While the other judges eventually apologized for their unjust actions, Hathorne refused to because, in his opinion, the will of god controlled the court’s decisions. After realizing that his family had such an embarrassing legacy, Hawthorne’s life drastically changed (World Biography 1).
By adding a “w” to his name, Hawthorne was able to distance himself from his imperfect ancestors. Unfortunately, Hawthorne could never separate himself from the lasting impact they left behind. With his discovery, Hawthorne realized that all ancestral knowledge of his angelic and sincere family was a lie. Embarrassed, Hawthorne spent twelve years secluded in, “a period of dreamlike isolation and solitude” (World Biography 2). During this period, his pessimistic views began to develop. Foremost, he had the Dark Romanticist belief that perfection was impossible and could never be achieved. He was also skeptical of social reforms, believing that they were unable to alter society (Allen 468). Additionally, he believed that all people are naturally sinful. If even the most authentic of Puritans, his ancestors, could be corrupted, what would stop anyone else from suffering the same fate? Hawthorne fused these ideas into his short stories using innovative techniques, including characterization and symbolism.
One of Hawthorne’s stories, “Young Goodman Brown,” explores the thoughts and actions of the...