The Symbolism of “Young Goodman Brown”
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Young Goodman Brown,” shows the reader the author’s power as a symbolist.
Frederick C. Crews in “The Logic of Compulsion in ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’” explores the symbology that prevails in Hawthorne’s best short stories:
. . . I chose this one tale to analyze because it illustrates the indispensability, and I should even say the priority, of understanding the literal psychological dramas in Hawthorne’s fiction. Like all of his best tales, this one is packed with symbolic suggestions and invite a moralistic reading. . . . (111).
Peter Conn in “Finding a Voice in an New Nation” states his evaluation of Hawthorne as a symbolist:
He was a secularized Puritan symbolist, who recovered the dramas enacted in cases of conscience by tracing the lines that bound men and women to their motives. Concerned with individuals as specimens or types, he endowed his characters with solemnly stylized features and then studied their anxiety, or doubt, or guilt. He placed them amid settings and objects that gave symbolic expression to their inward states (84).
Hugo McPherson in “Hawthorne’s Use of Mythology” explains how the author’s “inner drama” may be expressed in his symbolism:
The imaginative foundation of a writer’s work may well be an inner drama or ‘hidden life’ in which his deepest interests and conflicts are transformed into images or characters; and through the symbolic play of these creations, he comes to ‘know’ the meaning of his experience; the imaginative structure becomes a means of reaching truth. . . . he lives ‘a life of allegory,’ and each of his works expresses one facet or another of the total structure. . . .heart-leading symbol. [The Heart became] Hawthorne’s central preoccupation and his leading symbol (68).
Commenting on the rich symbolism of Hawthorne’s tales or short stories, 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). Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” says 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...