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Realism Vs. Romanticism In Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

2696 words - 11 pages

 
   Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale “Young Goodman Brown” is a good example of a short story embodying both characteristics of realism and characteristics of romanticism.

M. H. Abrams defines romantic themes in prominent writers of this school in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as being five in number: (1) innovations in the materials, forms and style; (2) that the work involve a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”; (3) that external nature be a persistent subject with a “sensuous nuance” and accuracy in its description; (4) that the reader be invited to identify the protagonist with the author himself; and (5) that this be an age of “new beginnings and high possibilities” for the person (177-79).

 

Let us examine “Young Goodman Brown” in light of the above. First of all, Hawthorne was a real innovator in his use of the psychological approach to characters within a story. A. N. Kaul considers Hawthorne “preeminently a ‘psychological’” writer – “burrowing, to his utmost ability, into the depths of our common nature, for the purposes of psychological romance. . . .” (2). Q. D. Leavis says: “Hawthorne has imaginatively recreated for the reader that Calvinist sense of sin. . . . But in Hawthorne, by a wonderful feat of transmutation, it has no religious significance, it is as a psychological state that it is explored” (37). The reader experiences most of the story through the eyes and feelings of the protagonist, Goodman. In the following passage the reader is allowed, as is typical, to read his thoughts:

 

"Poor little Faith!" thought he, for his heart smote him. "What a wretch am I, to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought, as she spoke, there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But, no, no! 'twould kill her to think it. Well; she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven."

 

With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil

purpose.

 

After Deacon Gookin and the minister had passed by, the reader feels the very feelings of Brown:

 

Whither, then, could these holy men be journeying, so deep into the heathen wilderness? Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree, for support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and overburthened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really

was a Heaven above him.

 

Secondly, “a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” is Abrams’ next criterion for romantic writing. And for a certainty there is considerably much of this in “Young Goodman Brown,” especially as the climax approaches.

 

"Faith!" shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation; and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying- "Faith! Faith!" as if bewildered wretches were...

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