“Young Goodman Brown” – the Structure
Q. D. Leavis in “Hawthorne as Poet” mentions Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” as “essentially dramatic” : “The first batch of works I specified [including “Young Goodman Brown”] is essentially dramatic, its use of language is poetic, and it is symbolic, and richly so, as is the dramatic poet’s. . . “ (27) This essay will examine this and other features of the structure of Hawthorne’s short story.
Leavis’ evaluation of the story’s structure as “essentially dramatic” is consistent with the view expressed by Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography.” She states: “Biographers and critics of Nathaniel Hawthorne must deal with opposites – determination and self-doubt, imagery of light and dark, flowers and weeds – paradoxes” (13). Swisher’s “opposites” and Leavis’ “essentially dramatic” are the same concept, in the estimation of this reader. Let’s examine the text to see evidence of this; notice how the “opposites” say their lines in the fashion of a drama:
"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!"
"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!"
"Then God bless you!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons, "and may you find all well, when you come back."
"Amen!" cried Goodman Brown. "Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee."
Goodman’s opposite, Faith, leads off the dialogue; her opposite, Goodman, responds; then she responds to him; then he responds to her. Back and forth, like actors on a stage. Isn’t it obvious why critics say that “Young Goodman Brown” is written in “dramatic” form or structure?
Is the dramatic structure continued through the length of the tale? A. N. Kaul maintains that Hawthorne “introduced into the art of prose narrative a severe, if not always sustained, sense of structure. . . . “ (3) For this reason we see the back-and-forth verbal exchange continue all along the journey to the coven site:
"Come, Goodman Brown!" cried his fellow-traveller, "this is a dull pace for the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you are so soon weary.
"Friend," said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop, "having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples, touching the matter thou wot'st of."