Irony In Young Goodman Brown

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Irony in Young Goodman Brown


Nathaniel Hawthorne, well known for his attacks on outlandish Puritan ideology in The Scarlet Letter, has always incorporated some aspect of his life and beliefs into his works. Once again, he has successfully conveyed a strong moral concept by utilizing various literary techniques to reveal a disturbing outlook into a man's soul. In "Young Goodman Brown," Nathaniel Hawthorne uses strong symbolism, irony, and imagery to illustrate the theme of man as one attempting to escape from evil; oblivious to the fact that sin is an escapable part of human nature. In the story, the reader is guided through Goodman Brown's inner spiritual conflict between good and evil as he takes a journey which will lead him to a life of despair because of the temptations he succumbs to.

Discussion and Analysis

Goodman Brown's journey begins at about midnight in Salem, as he is leaving his good wife Faith, explaining to her how "this one night I must tarry away from thee" (Hawthorne 140). This simple and rather harmless scene in actuality carries great importance. First of all, Salem is an allusion to the center of the unjust witch trials where harmless women were burned by Puritan leaders (in 1692); thus, a prime setting for an ungodly and eerie story that is about to take place (Turner 52). Turner elaborates that this infamous village was the center of witchcraft delusion, where those chief in authority as well as obscure young citizens like Brown were enticed by "fiendish shapes into the frightful solitude of superstitious fear" (53). In addition, Goodman Brown and Faith are important allegorical symbols which will later be pitted against evil; therefore, the good man Brown is not only leaving his wife for the night, but also his faith in God. Before meeting his fellow traveler, the Devil, Goodman Brown promises that after his one rendezvous with evil, he'll "cling to her [Faith's] skirts and follow her to Heaven (Hawthorne 140). Ironically, this idealistic (but not as convenient) pact will lead to Brown's eventual downfall when he will no longer look at his wife with the same faith when he finally returns at dawn. Furthermore, this ambitious promise also reflects how Goodman Brown feels he can do something evil and still go back to his "pure" ways and beliefs - not the case as Brown will later see (Canby, 56).

Images of gloom and evil twist through the reader's mind as Brown takes "a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest" to finally meet the Devil, known to him as only a companion (Hawthorne 141). Ironically, Goodman thinks that the devil could be watching him when he is faced with the Devil personified in the figure of an ironically "grave" man (Hawthorne 141). Young Goodman Brown excuses himself for being late as "Faith" kept him back; a double meaning because his wife physically keeps him back while his faith in God psychologically also delays his meeting. As the two gentlemen start their journey through the ...
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