Deep Allegory in Young Goodman Brown
Herman Melville in “Hawthorne and His Mosses” (The Literary World August 17, 24, 1850), comments on the deep allegory found within Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “Young Goodman Brown.”
"Young Goodman Brown"? You would of course suppose that it was a simple little tale, intended as a supplement to "Goody Two Shoes." Whereas, it is deep as Dante; nor can you finish it, without addressing the author in his own words--"It is yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin." And with Young Goodman, too, in allegorical pursuit of his Puritan wife, you cry out in your anguish. . . .
The use of allegory in his short stories is characteristic of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the literary critics comment on this fact repeatedly. Peter Conn in “Finding a Voice in an New Nation” explains Hawthorne’s style of allegorizing and how it creates unwanted tensions for the reader:
He once planned to call a group of his stories “Allegories of the Heart,” and in that unused title he summed up much of his method and his subject. His chosen terrain lay between the realms of theology and psychology, and allegory provided the means of his explorations. . . . Where traditional allegory was secured in certitude, however, Hawthorne’s allegorical proceedings yield only restlessness and doubt. The stable system of correspondences that tied allegory’s images and ideas together was lodged squarely upon the religious orthodoxy that Hawthorne rejected. In his belated version of the sacramental world, the links binding visible to spirit have become vexed and problematic. . . . This doubleness generates tensions that can be felt throughout Hawthorne’s work . . .(83-84).
Yvor Winters in “Maule’s Curse, or Hawthorne and the Problem of Allegory” says that Hawthorne is essentially an allegorist (11). Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” states that the author was always “perfecting his delicate craft of the symbol, of allegory” (42). A. N. Kaul states : “In an effort to apprehend and adequately reflect the new complexity of man’s life, he [Hawthorne] molded the venerable – in his case directly inherited – allegorical method into the modern technique of symbolism” (3).
M. H. Abrams defines an allegory as a “narrative, whether in prose or verse, in which the agents and actions, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived by the author to make coherent sense on the ‘literal,’ or primary, level of signification, and at the same time to signify a second, correlated order of signification” (5). It is quite obvious from the names of the characters in “Young Goodman Brown” that their names are contrived to give a secondary signification. Goodman is on the primary level a simple husband who is following his curiosity about evil; on the level of secondary signification he is Everyman or the new Adam: R. W. B. Lewis in “The Return into Rime: Hawthorne” states: Finally, it was Hawthorne who saw in...