Young Goodman Brown is a short story written in 1835 by an American author called Nathaniel Hawthorne. The major theme of the book is the evil versus good. The story addresses the tendency of human beings to do well for the wrong reasons for instance so as to fit in the society while on the other hand they conform to evil secretly. The place setting of the story is in Salem while the time setting are the periods when there were public witch trials to prosecute those who were found guilty of performing magic or practicing evil in contradiction to the Christian faith. Practice of dark magic was usually done secretly with some of people being loyal followers of the church and practicing it secretly. The author’s father John Hawthorne was one of the judges during these infamous trials and it might have inspired the writer through some details discovered during the trials. In the story the author addresses this issue by letting the audience into the situation in Salem through the eyes of Goodman Brown. Perhaps the author might have wanted to justify the deeds of his father as a Judge because in this book he includes two witches who were actually taken to the trial and were guilty of conducting witchcraft. The difficulty in successful prosecuting of individuals accused of witchcraft is that it is mostly based on rumors and here says and it is almost impossible to gather credible evidence.
The story is based on the infamous Salem trials that have been extensively documented in many law journals. According to Linder (2010) a total of nineteen men and women had from June to September 1692 had been convicted and taken to Gallows Hill which was a barren slope near Salem where they were later hanged. Linder goes on to outline that there was also another man who was stoned to death for refusing to answer to charges of witchcraft. There was hundreds of other who had also faced charges and were sent to prison without trails suffering for months. The period as Linder explains went as suddenly as it had come and it therefore becomes a question of how an event that had led to the murder of and suffering of many people could suddenly appear and disappear.
Linder (2010) explains that the major force behind the killings and imprisonments were other socio-economic conflicts existing between the families of Salem and that the witch hunts were politically instigated to eliminate or subdue political opposition. Furthermore he explains that personal jealousies also became an influencing factor. The spark for the witch hunts as explained by Linder came after an elder of Salem village in 1688 invited a preacher called Samuel Parris to preach in Salem and become the official minister of Salem. Parris accepted the invitation and moved to Salem together with his wife Elizabeth, six year old daughter Betty, niece Abigail and an Indian Slave. Linder writes that during the cold winter of 1692 young Betty Parris became seriously ill and she complained of fever and headache. According to Linder in her 1976 article in the science magazine the young Betty’s disease could have been as a result of convulsive ergotism caused by consuming rye infected with ergot. The doctor who was called to diagnose the disease being unable to suggested that it might have been as a result of some supernatural powers. Furthermore the Indian slave of the Parris family suggested a remedy that involved the use of witchcraft. Later on the slave girl went ahead and confirmed that she had actually had contact with the devil which led to the spread of mass hysteria (Blumberg). When more people began suffering from the same symptoms, the witchcraft talk became even more appealing as it became difficult to explain the conditions. Consequently the Indian slave became one of the people to be accused of witchcraft because black magic was also a common practice among the Indians and even Hawthorn writes about it in the story:
“Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown.” (Hawthorne).
Analysis of the Story
In contrast to the views of most Historians, Hawthorne seems to imply otherwise in the story. Historically it is argued that the Salem trials were erred because it became obvious that witchcraft was the only explanations to the mysterious diseases that were ailing people compounding the anxiety that was already existing at the moment due to fights with the Indians. In Hawthorne’s story Goodman embarks on a journey perhaps out of curiosity or for self discovery in the forest to meet the dark being who recruits people to the practice of witchcraft and magic. Goodman leaves his wife called Faith whom they have been together for three years for the journey into the forest. Faith tries to dissuade him from going by asking him to sleep in his own bed that very night instead of going for the journey apparently a journey that Faith does not have any idea of the details. The conversation between Goodman and Faith reveals that they are both convicted Christians. Faith tells Goodman to be blessed by God and Goodman in turn tells faith to pray and sleep at dusk and no harm will come upon her. Goodman even calls Faith “a blessed angel on earth” (Hawthorne).
Soon afterwards Goodman meets his companion whom he discloses that he is late because Faith kept him back for some time. The author might have used faith here to imply not to imply Goodman’s wife but to imply the Christian faith that might have been condemning Goodman all the while not to go for the meeting. However since Goodman decides to go anyway it becomes clear that his Christian faith was not strong enough to prevent him from going. Goodman even regrets hwy he should leave Faith alone but promises himself that when he comes back from the journey he will “cling on to her skirt and follow her to heaven.” Throughout the journey still harbors strong feelings of doubt concerning this journey and as a result he keeps on complaining but his companion is determined to see him attend the meeting. Perhaps the author might have personified the devil and used him as the Goodman’s companion. This can be perceived from the following conversation:
"Sayest thou so?" replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. "Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet." (Hawthorne).
The author refers to Goodman’s companion as “he of the serpent” furthermore when Goodman eventually refuses to follow the companion, the companion suddenly disappears. One theme that can be seen at this point is the theme of good versus evil. Goodman as his name suggests is a devout Christian who has suddenly been convinced to attend an evil meeting deep in the forest and as the journey proceeds there are conflicts as he battles with his faith. Evil has a way of convincing Goodman to go on with the journey and at some point Goodman together with his companion meets an old lady called Goody Cloyse who Goodman knows to be a devout Christian who had even taught Goodman his catechism. Goodman becomes disillusioned as he realizes that Goody Cloyse is also going to attend the same evil meeting. Although Goodman continues to have his doubts concerning the meeting pointing out of the fact that neither his father nor any of his ancestors had ever embarked on such a journey and it was wrong for him to go. He outlines that:
“We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept” (Hawthorne).
However his companion is quick to state that he knew Goodman’s family and was as if he was one of the Puritan Christians. However Goodman is surprised at the fact that his father had never talked about ever knowing the companion. It is therefore apparent that the meeting had been kept a secret. Goodman soon realizes that not only is Goody Cloyse his former catechism teacher going but also Deacon Gookin and the minister. The deacon and the minister of whom, Goodman feared to disappoint by attending such a meeting. Furthermore Goodman also realizes that Faith his wife of three months was also attending the meeting. Finally Goodman decides to attend the meeting himself perhaps after feeling disappointed by the people he had counted on as being devout Puritan Christians. However we realize that Goodman does not attend the meeting because he is willing to but he is driven by his anger to confront the person who has claimed even the loyalty of people like Goody Cloyse, the Deacon Gookin and the minister who he believed to be faithful people. Goodman says in anger that:
“Let us hear which will laugh loudest. Think not to frighten me with your deviltry. Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as he fear you.” (Hawthorne).
At some point Goodman even tries to convince his wife faith not to join the evil ones by telling her to resist the wicked. According to Hawthorne (1835), it could have been a moment where the actual conflict between the newly found faith of Christianity and the traditional beliefs and many people were at a dilemma on which one to conform to. Although Goodman make the journey to the forest to meet with the dark being he is not sure about this decision and even at some point in the journey he changes his mind and he is quickly filled with a sense of relief. Hawthorn writes that:
“The young man sat a few moments by the roadside, applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet the minister in his morning walk, nor shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin.” (Hawthorne).
However it can also be discerned that his faith did not have a string foundation because his sense of relief does not come due to his ability to make the correct choice but because he would avoid feeling guilty when he faced the Deacon and the Minister. Perhaps if the young man was certain that he was doing the right thing not in the eyes of man but in the eyes of God, it could have been a basis strong enough to prevent him from attending the meeting deep in the forest. Since the basis of his faith was not strong enough he soon re-embarked on the journey.
The major theme of the story is the theme of good versus evil with the major character Goodman not only fighting good and evil within himself but also realizing that others whom he knew as good had already lost the fight and conformed to evil. The author also outlines that the basis of the faith of the puritan Christians was not strong enough as to enable them to resist evil and it is for this reason that even a deacon could be found going to an evil meeting. Furthermore people had formed the habit of doing evil under the shades of darkness while pretending to be good in public. The other point outlined by Hawthorne is the existence of witchcraft. However this fact was not only refuted by the government which led to the compensations of the families affected (Paul).