Symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown"

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Nathaniel Hawthorne is a classic example of dark romanticism and cautionary tale author who successfully gave life and appeal to most of his characters by focusing on the inherent natural qualities of humanity that are; sin, guilt, and evil. Hawthorne’s works were inspired by the concept of puritanism that combined the historical romances that are filled with symbolism of actions and the characters that feature in his literary works. Despite the symbolism and dark romance portrayal of the characters in his stories, Hawthorne’s protagonists expressed painted a negative image on the beliefs and values of people in the society. 

            In his story, “Young Goodman Brown”, Hawthorne’s protagonist Goodman Brown undergoes through the passage of nontraditional initiation to manhood by being a rebel and forsaking his corrupt society to seek a reclusive lifestyle. While the actions may seem justified in the sense of doing the right thing, the fact that Brown is the protagonist, he needs to be portrayed to have set a better example by fighting for good. Brown is faced with a character test when he encourages his wife faith to "Look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one," but when he fails; he abandons his wife (Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown” 65).

            Additionally, in the story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” is an interesting initiation story where the protagonist Robin partakes in a physical journey that alters his ways of thinking and his preconceived notions. Robin is perceived as naive for dressing and having manners that do not conform to the city, and he even disrespects a senior (Hawthorne, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux”3). Robin learns the hard way as he is told, “you will be wiser in time” for making wrong choices in the city (Hawthorne, “My Kinsman, Major Molineux” 3). Robin is caught in the battles of his society and his old ways of life, which upsets his concept of a pre-established livelihood.

            The women protagonists in the stories by Hawthorne are symbolized on the folly of the demands of perfection in a world where humanity is flawed. The literary works of Hawthorne that portray women in the bittersweet perspective include; "The Birthmark" and "Young Goodman Brown".  Georgiana in “The Birthmark” is a beautiful, devoted and intelligent woman considered perfect referred to as “magic endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts”, but with imperfection in the form of a birthmark on her cheek the "bloody hand" (Hawthorne, "The Birthmark" 119-20). Despite the perfection of Georgiana, she is associated with sin, decay, sorrow, and death because of her birthmark that resembles the shape of a fairy-sized handprint.

            In closing, the symbolism and dark romance of characters in Hawthorne’s stories express his negative portrayal of beliefs and values that further erode the ethical fabric of the society. Hawthorne's association of perfection and appearances are a misconstrued attempt to express his views on these subject matters. Hawthorne's failure to be sensitive to how the society views these matters with symbolism provide an inconsistent analogy to humanity and what it means being a human being.

Work Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. My Kinsman, Major Molineux. Booklassic, 2015.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The birthmark. Feedbooks, 1843.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales. Oxford University Press, USA,     1998.

August 21, 2023



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