Symbolism in Young Goodman Brown
Edmund Fuller and B. Jo Kinnick in “Stories Derived from New England Living” state: “Hawthorne’s unique gift was for the creation of strongly symbolic stories which touch the deepest roots of man’s moral nature” (31). It is the purpose of this essay to explore the main symbolism contained within Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale, “Young Goodman Brown.”
Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” states that the author was forever “perfecting his delicate craft of the symbol, of allegory, of the few themes and oft repeated character-types which were to haunt forever the minds of those who know New England” (42).
Let us begin with the opening lines of the story: “YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem village. . .” What is Goodman Brown symbolic of? 1. According to Levy, he “is Everyman. The bargain he has struck with Satan is the universal one . . . . Initially, he is a naive and immature young man who fails to understand the gravity of the step he has taken . . . [which is] succeeded by a presumably adult determination to resist his own evil impulses” (117). 2. Fogle writes that he is “a naive young man who accepts both society in general and his fellow men as individuals at their own valuation, [who] is in one terrible night confronted with the vision of human evil . . . ” (15). 3. Q. D. Leavis in “Hawthorne as Poet” states that “the relevant point is that Young Goodman Brown is Everyman in seventeenth century New England” (35). And what is Salem village symbolic of? It was “the center of the witchcraft delusion, in the witching times of 1692, and it shows the populace of Salem Village, those chief in authority, as well as obscure young citizens like Brown, enticed by fiendish shapes into the frightful solitude of superstitious fear” (Abel 133). To have so much symbolism in the very opening sentence of the tale is almost too much for the human mind.
Examining the second sentence of the short story, we see: “And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap, while she called to Goodman Brown.” What do the pink ribbons signify? 1. “The ribbons are in fact an explicit link between two conceptions of Faith, connecting sweet little Faith of the village with the woman who stands at the Devil’s baptismal font. We can legitimately disagree about the meaning of this duality; the fact remains that in proposing that Faith’s significance is the opposite of what he had led the reader to expect, Hawthorne violates the fixed conceptual meaning associated with his character. . . .They are part of her adornment of dress, and they suggest, rather than symbolize something light and playful, consistent with her anxious simplicity at the beginning and the joyful, almost childish eagerness with which she greets Brown at the end” (Levy 124). 2. “These ribbons. . . are...