The Compulsion Toward Evil In Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

1159 words - 5 pages

The Compulsion Toward Evil in “Young Goodman Brown”

 
   It is the intention of this essay to demonstrate the compulsion toward gross evil in “Young Goodman Brown” that is indicated by the actions of the characters, a compulsion that includes not only the leading characters but virtually everyone in the tale.

 

In Salem village that fateful night when the young Puritan husband was departing home for the night, he exchanged “a parting kiss with his young wife.” The wind was playing with “the pink ribbons of her cap.” Literary critic Wagenknecht surveys some of the critical interpretation relative to these ribbons on Faith’s cap and how they convey a message from Hawthorne:

 

Mathews finds the pastel of infancy in pink, but since pink is a color intermediate between red and white, William V. Davis prefers to take it as suggesting “neither total depravity nor innocence” but “the tainted innocence, the spiritual imperfection of mankind,” a view shared, up to a point, by Robinson. . . . (62).

 

 So the critics would have us believe that the author is making a statement here: that seemingly good Faith is not all that good, based on the author’s placement of pink ribbons on her cap.

 

She whispered, “Dearest heart, prithee 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 afraid of herself sometimes.” Q.D. Leavis says in “Hawthorne as Poet” that “It is a journey he takes under compulsion, and it should not escape us that she tries to stop him because she is under a similar compulsion to go on a ‘journey’ herself” (36). So the main male and female characters are manifesting similar compulsions toward evil.

 

En route to the site of the coven Brown learned from the evil fellow-traveler just how compelled to evil his forbears had ben:

 

"Such company, thou wouldst say," observed the elder person, interrupting his pause. "Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's War. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you, for their sake."

 

Shortly thereafter Goodman is shown Goody Cloyse, his old catechism teacher en route to the witch-meeting, and immediately thereafter he is confronted with: "Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!" replied the solemn old tones of the minister. "Spur up, or we shall be late. Nothing can be done, you know, until I get on the ground." Brown’s faith in the goodness of humanity has nearly been extinguished.

 

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