Structure of “Young Goodman Brown”
“Almost all literary theorists since Aristotle have emphasized the importance of structure, conceived in diverse ways, in analyzing a work of literature” (Abrams 300). This essay will explore some interesting points in the structure of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” considering the time-frame, foreshadowing, suspenseful incidents, climax and denouement (Axelrod 337).
The narrative in this tale is straightforward until the narrator, late in the story, asks the reader: "Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?” This query gives the reader the option of believing that the story is mostly a dream. The tale encompasses a period of time from sunset, when the young Puritan Goodman Brown leaves his wife in the doorway of their home, till the next morning when he returns to Salem village after spending the night in the woods.
As Brown leaves the house at the beginning of the story, his wife Faith foreshadows coming events with her reference to dreams:
"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, "pr'ythee, put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed tonight. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts, that she's afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!"
Faith’s use of dreams as an excuse for her husband to stay home on this particular evening is anticipatory of Goodman’s experience in the woods, which turns out to be possibly a dream; in other words, the bulk of the narrative could be only a dream. The devil, furthermore, introduces the notion of a dream by saying that Goodman Brown and Faith “had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream.” The climax of the story comes as the Evil One is preparing to devil-baptize Goodman and Faith at the coven:
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!
"Faith! Faith!" cried the husband. "Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!"
Whether Faith obeyed, he knew not. Hardly had he spoken, when he found himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the wind, which died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against the rock, and felt it chill and damp, while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew.
In this passage Goodman awakens from his dream in the woods. Or is it a dream? When he returns to Salem...