In Nathaniel Hawthorne's “Young Goodman Brown”, he recreates a time most recalled of the Puritans: the Salem witch trials. He includes multiple historical names associated with the trial, some of them even of his own ancestry. These historical facts are important to his story because it builds a sense of apprehension, doubt and superstition in the reader, while containing tangible connections to reality. It also allows contemporary readers to examine the issues and see the repercussions of such a belief system and the impact it can and did have.
In early 14th century Europe, many people had a strong belief in the supernatural, or more specifically, in the devil giving certain humans (“witches”) powers to hurt others. This belief resulted in tens of thousands of people killed from being accused of witchcraft. The Salem witch trials occurred in 1692 until 1693, when a group of young girls living in Salem Village, Massachusetts convinced the leaders of the town that they were possessed by the devil and blamed many women being the cause of their possessions. It all began when 9 year old Elizabeth Parris, daughter of Samuel Parris (minister of Salem Village) and 11 year old Abigail Williams, niece of Samuel Parris, began having random “fits”. They would have outbursts of screaming, violent contortions, throwing things, and making strange sounds. Doctor William Griggs observed them and diagnosed that they have been bewitched. After his diagnosis, more girls in the village began displaying the same symptoms. (History.com) On February 29, the girls went to court and under pressure from judges Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne (Hawthorne's great-great-grandfather), they accused three women in their community for bewitching them: Sarah Good, a homeless beggar; Tituba, the Parris' slave; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly woman Dixon 2
in poverty. When the trial finally ended and the colony admitted it was a mistake, nineteen women had been hanged by the state on Gallows Hill, a 71 year old man was crushed to death with heavy stones, numerous people died in jail and almost 200 people, total, had at least been accused of witchcraft. (Smithsonian.com)
Hawthorne was strongly influenced by the Puritan society growing up, especially due to living with his own father's devout Puritan family. Hawthorne experienced the reality of the witch trials and battled with the confusion and doubt that it brought on the people. During these times, no one really knew who was trustworthy and who wasn't. No one even knew whether it was all real or was completely made up. Hawthorne brings his own confusion about his beliefs and shares it with Young Goodman Brown and the reader. Hawthorne even includes real people who he knew that were involved in the Salem witch trials. He mentions his own great-great-grandfather, William Hathorne, who ordered the whipping of a Quaker woman accused of witchcraft and played a major role in the witchcraft trials as a judge....