Short Story Notes

Notes on A Rose for Emily and The Lottery




Cask of Amontillado notes

Everyday Use summary

Nathaniel Hawthorne “Young Goodman Brown”

The story “Young Goodman Brown” is an allegory:  a representation of an abstract idea through characters and/or setting whose qualities are developed throughout the story.  For example, Young Goodman brown’s wife is named Faith.  Faith is literal–his wife, but the word is also figurative in that it means a belief without proof, complete trust.

“Young Goodman Brown” functions as an allegory of the fall of man, from which Hawthorne draws to illustrate what he sees as the hypocrisy in American religion.  Hawthorne also suffers from what he calls “an inherited sense of guilt.”  His great-great-great grandfather was Judge Hathorne who presided over the Salem Witch trials and sentenced 19 men and women to death only to learn later they were innocent.  As a result, Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “w” to distances himself from his past.

Hawthorne sets up a story of a man who is tempted by the devil and succumbs because of his curiosity and the weakness of his faith–even though he marries Faith. Goodman Brown knows where is going as he prepares his evening journey into the forest but he thinks he can return to a normal life.   The forest is a literary convention and the use of “threshold” in the introductory paragraphs informs the reader that Goodman Brown will “crossover”.  What he sees and learns in the forest with his guide, the dark man, changes his life for the worse.  He recognizes those in society like Deacon Goodkin, Goody Cloyse (the one who taught him his cathecism), and he learns that his grandfather and father walked the same journey into the forest.  As he decides to return home, he sees a sign that his wife is there; he hears her voice as well.  He cries:  “Faith, Faith, resist the wicked one!”  But only to deaf ears.  As he approaches the ceremony in the forest, the dark man tells Goodman Brown and Faith that their eyes will now be opened to the wickedness of themselves and those around them.

At this juncture, the author intrudes in the story:  Had it been only a dream?  It doesn’t matter; Goodman Brown returns from the forest to find what had been joyful in his life has been taken away from him.   He has become suspicious of those around him, even the woman he once loved.  He dies what people had carved on his headstone, a gloomy man.

Consider the historical setting of Salem, Massachusetts 1691 (Salem Witch Trials 1692); note  that Hawthorne grew up with an “inherited sense of guilt”.  He, thus, writes about “the power of blackness” (Harry Levin’s term), the dark side of man’s soul, the nature of evil, the mystery of sin.

As you read the story, consider the first paragraph of the story for allegory and also consider the conflict in the story:  “My Faith is gone!”  How does the conflict reflect the ending of the story and why “no hopeful verse upon his tombstone”?

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