The Empiricist Journey of Young Goodman Brown
In the late 17th century, John Locke was one of the most influential people of his age. He was a renowned philosopher who established radical ideas about the political, social, and psychological ideals of mankind. One of his philosophical ideas, which he is said to be the founder of, is British Empiricism. This idea holds that "all knowledge is derived from experience whether of the mind or the senses" ("Empiricism" 480). In any man’s life, there arises such a point in time where he comes to the realization that there is a sense of evil in the world. Whether it is by something as subtle as locking the door at night before going to bed or being directly confronted at gun point as a man demands your tennis shoes, at some point man will realize that the innocence of his childhood does not last forever. Locke believed that people gain knowledge from their own personal experience. For Young Goodman Brown, this experience comes with his journey into the forest with the fellow traveler as chronicled in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story. Initially, Brown was, as his namesake foretells, a "young, good man" who believes in man’s basic goodness, yet within the inner desires of his heart wishes to see what all the world had to offer. Therefore, he set off on a "journey" into the forest to explore the world of this unknown evil. The story of "Young Goodman Brown" is a classic example of the empiricist ideas of Locke in how the intrigues of the unknown beckoned Young Brown as he experienced the transition between his initial idea of man’s basic goodness to the reality that evil exists in the heart of every man.
However, before we can analyze Young Goodman Brown’s journey in the forest, we must first look into empiricist ideology and assess whether Young Goodman Brown qualifies. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica gives 4 major ideas about empiricist experience based upon their ideology. These views are shared by Locke and many other empiricists. The first is that:
Experience is intelligible in isolation, or atomistically, without reference to the nature of its object or to the circumstances of its subject. Hence an experience can be described without saying anything about the mind which has it, the thoughts that describe it, or the world which contains it ("Empiricism" 480).
Likewise, Hawthorne describes Young Goodman Brown’s experience without divulging much into his inner thought. The interpretation of his thought is mostly left up to reader response. The empiricist experience is, therefore, one in which the experience is in and of the mind.
The second idea states that:
The person who undergoes experience is in some sense the recipient of data that are imprinted upon his intelligence irrespective of his activity; the person brings nothing to experience, but gains everything from it (480).
This idea directly relates to Brown’s journey as he goes along on a daunting quest for no...