Young Goodman Brown's depiction of American Romanticism

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American Romanticism is a historical era in the United States during which authors and writers of American origin published texts that were heavily influenced by the English Romantics. This period also comes at the tail end of Puritanism, as Protestants in England take up the responsibility of purifying the church by excluding all negative elements such as witchcraft, Catholicism, and other religious traditions. As a result, Hawthorne is a creation of English Romanticism who tries to adapt the style to the American setting. Romanticism in writing was mostly associated with under arching themes like emotions, love of nature, vast imagination, individualism, and pursuit of individual freedom as claimed by Langer (p. 2). In examining the short story, Young Goodman Brown by Hawthorne Nathaniel, American Romanticism throughout the text will be presented, making the story an incredible representation of American Romanticism. The components of the short story that will be elaborated are transcendentalism, fear, and guilt, imagination, nature, personal freedom and individualism.

Transcendentalism is primarily seen as the ability of the human mind to know the truth via instincts and also able to attain knowledge that goes beyond the reach of the five common senses (Buell p.1). The transcendentalists insist that that knowledge is not explainable with words but is experienced by the individual with a certain level of certainty. Faith, young Goodman Brown seems to exhibit that when she senses that something evil was going to happen to her husband if she left that night and that’s why she insisted that her husband should stay. Faith was persuaded that by Goodman staying, both would be protected by something she could not possibly grasp. Since the knowledge was not factual, she was not in a position to explain to her husband fully. The outcome of that ability was the initiation of young Goodman Brown and his wife to a cult. When Goodman defies the plea of his wife and progresses to the forest alone, his confidence disappears. Transcendentalism is also manifest here since fear engulfs him maybe such that he is somehow confident the place he was headed to presented danger and not bliss. True to his intuitions, he meets the devil, and the only thing that happens is a movement from a pious man to a cultic man whose inclination change from right to wrong.

Nature was central in the period of American Romanticism and is presented in details in Hawthorne’s text. The world of nature is presented as a place of fear especially in the night which hides all sins and evils in the town of Salem. In the forest, Goodman Brown is not only separated from the safety of the city, Salem but also from the safety of his wife Faith. In the woods, it is the home of Satan where only the evil is propagated and no good person finds himself there. In fact, even the good person who is in the forest at that hour is a pretender of good works but in reality an evil person only wearing a mask of goodness. The woods are a representation of the evil. When Goodman is gone too far in the forest, he meditates and considers that his father would not have gone too far in the woods for such an errand. It sighs and worries that the trees are hiding places for the Indian Savages or the devil. Later on, the old man Goodman Brown finds sitting on an ‘old tree’ is the devil. The old tree would represent a long period of time that the devil had dominated the forest.

Getting deeper in the forest and the darkness dominates the place, the supernatural and nature seem to find a blending spot. The snake-like staff on the devil’s hands seems to find life and to act with emotions and feelings. The forest seems to take a life of its own that is distinct and different from the reality. For example, when the devils laugh mockingly on Goodman Brown, the rod seems to wriggle and twist itself in sympathy. In the forest also, other close to unrealistic events occur (Hawthorne p.408). Goody Cloyse, who was Goodman’s brown teacher is a witch and also present on the night errands. During that encounter with the catechism teacher, the devil causes his serpent-like staff to assume life and to vanish from the scene as noted by McKeithan (p.93). Additionally, in the woods, other things that Goodman Brown would not expect happens. He hears the voice of his wife Faith, in the woods and he cannot help crying out in desperation. In that instance, the pink ribbon belonging to Faith falls magically from the sky. In a sense, the innocence depicted by the pink ribbon is all lost and the forest is no longer a den of scary trees but a breeding place for sin and evil. This sanctuary of sin is further elaborated by the sight of holy men taking en route to the witches meeting. Goodman Brown wonders in bewilderment how those Christian men would be going so deep in the heathen’s wilderness. Following the meeting in the witches’ ceremony, Goodman Brown is terrified because of his lost faith and the depth of the nature and personification of the forest. The natural world seems to mock Goodman Brown. The night is spent in evil activities and behold the sun rises.

Young Goodman Brown reveals various emotions throughout the text which was a characteristic of the Romantic period. When Goodman Brown tells his wife that he has a night errand and the wife is against that idea, it is evident that Goodman lavishes in guilt. In fact, that guilt of leaving his newlywed wife for a night errand makes him lie purporting that after that encounter he will always stick by Faith’s side and someday follow her to heaven. In fear and guilt, Goodman Brown makes promises that he is sure he won’t keep. The guilt is manifested by the fact that Goodman admits to himself that the journey is evil and thus the fight between he knows is true and what he says causes that feeling. Also, when Goodman enters the forest, great fear befalls him making him unsure of what would happen. However, since he was already in the forest, there was no way he would turn back. The first communication between Goodman and the devil depicts terror from Goodman Brown. When asked why he was delayed, in a terrified voice answers that Faith kept him aback. The irony of that answer is, such a meeting was not expected but in terror, Goodman Brown would not present rational and coherent thoughts. Shock is evident in the text during the discourse between the Devil and Goodman when the devil suggests that he was a good friend to Goodman’s grandfather and also his father. It is incomprehensible since Goodman thought to be the worst person to go there and none of his family members would do that.

Individualism is also presented in Young Goodman Brown as opposed to social conformity. People is Salem have decided to follow what they term as good for them as much as it may be unacceptable by the mainstream society. However, because of the fear of people, the transition from social constructs to individualism is marked with secrecy and hypocrisy. For instance, Goodman Brown asserts that he was regarded as the best person whose destination would be heaven where all good people end in. However, he attends a meeting of witches. Also, Goodman’s catechism teacher is present in the forest that night and admits to be a witch. Faith, who is a symbol of piety and godliness is also present in that witches ceremony. That leaves Goodman Brown concerned at the human depravity and evils that occur in darkness as opposed to the good look they present to the majority. The possibility of Faith and the catechism teacher and other holy men in the forest stir up imagination and creativity.

In conclusion, Young Goodman Brown is a good representation of American Romanticism. Nature is seen as a place where supernatural blend with the natural and most of the impossible things, in reality, happen there. Transcendentalism is evident through the convictions of Faith and Goodman before that night errand. Imagination and creativity are evident as Nathaniel Hawthorne present situations that only the mind could grasp through imagination. In the short story, the pursuit of individualism which is prevalent in American culture is seen.

Works Cited

Buell, Lawrence. Literary transcendentalism: Style and vision in the American Renaissance. Cornell University Press, 2016.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "The Young Goodman Brown." Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. 7th ed. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. 403-411.

Keane, Patrick J. Emerson, romanticism, and intuitive reason: the transatlantic" light of all our day". University of Missouri Press, 2005.

Langer, Sacha B. "Defining Dark Romanticism: The Importance of Individualism and Hope in the American Dark Romantic Movement." (2015).

McKeithan, Daniel M. "Hawthorne's" Young Goodman Brown": An Interpretation." Modern Language Notes 67.2 (1952): 93-96.

October 20, 2022

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