Literary Motifs in “Young Goodman Brown”
A literary motif “is a conspicuous element, such as a type of incident, device, reference, or formula, which occurs frequently in works of literature” (Abrams 169). Incredibly, this one tale, “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, contains an array of familiar literary motifs (Axelrod 337).
First of all, the tale involves the common motif of a journey in quest of something. The young Goodman Brown, at the beginning of the story, takes leave of his wife, Faith, in order to journey into the woods where he keeps an appointment with the devil: "My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise.”
The journey continues circuitously through the narrow paths of the forest (“He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind.), involving encounters with the devil, Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin, the local minister and his wife Faith – all of whom have been on a journey into the deepest part of the woods to attend the annual coven or witch-meeting. After considerable misgiving regarding the journey, Goodman arrives at the end of the hike in the most remote and isolated part of the forest where he and Faith are to be baptized into the devil-worshipping group and thereby learn the evil secrets hidden in the hearts of everyone:
Herein did the Shape of Evil dip his hand, and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be of their own. The husband cast one look at his pale wife, and Faith at him. What polluted wretches would the next glance show them to each other, shuddering alike at what they disclosed and what they saw!
The climax of the story involves a last-second repentance by the protagonist ("Faith! Faith!" cried the husband. "Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!"), but regrettably there has already been done some serious, irremediable damage to his inner peace. There is a post-climactic journey involving only the protagonist, Goodman himself, back into Salem village the following morning. This second journey does not restore Goodman to the tranquillity of his pre-journeying days. Even after many years, Brown’s peace has not returned and he dies an unhappy death: “And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave, a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbors, not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom.”
Secondly, there is present in “Young Goodman Brown” the...