History has known many a great author, but none more intriguing than Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s ability to weave stories through the use of complex language and early puritan society narratives has long been a topic of study amongst scholars and young adults, alike. “Young Goodman Brown” explores the idea of good vs. evil and draws many parallels to the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
It is often debated whether man is born innately good or evil. In “Young Goodman Brown” it is possible to see Hawthorne’s stance on this. However, before delving too deeply into this short story, it is crucial to the understanding of the narrative that the life of Nathaniel Hawthorne is critically analyzed. According to John Clendenning, Nathaniel was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts. He attended college at Bowdoin College, where he met future United States President Franklin Pierce. From this friendship, Hawthorne was moved to England as a consul, in 1846, shortly following his marriage to Sophia Peabody in 1842.
Hawthorne is descended from a line of staunch Puritans. This included William Hathorne, whom was involved with the persecution of many Quakers during the seventeenth century. Additionally, William Hathorne’s son, John Hathorne (Nathaniel’s father), was a judge during the Salem witch trials. Because of this, Hawthorne added the ‘w’ to his name in hopes of separating himself from the acts of his ancestors
(Bomarito). This gesture is monumental when looking at Hawthorne’s moral stance of good vs. evil.
In removing himself from his family history, Hawthorne is solidifying his views on the persecution of humans, his views on witchcraft and his opinion about what really makes a man ‘godly’. Because both his father and grandfather worked in accordance to Puritan doctrine and faith, it is obvious that Hawthorne does not necessarily believe that the men who are the most pious are the most good. This veers away from the popular idea that religion, and God, are inherently good. In “Young Goodman Brown” this concept becomes especially prominent. The main character, and who the short story is named after, is leaving his wife, Faith, to attend a function which is taking place in the deepest parts of the forest. Goodman Brown is a spiritual man and, much like Hawthorne, is descended from a line of devout Christians.
When he first enters the woods, he is met by an old man, carrying a staff resembling a serpent. Upon the first few moments of their encounter, the old man pronounces the following:
“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.”
It is very obvious, even from the first line, that Hawthorne has drawn upon his own experiences to develop his characters. Similar to William Hathorne, the grandfather of Goodman Brown believed in the...