Symbolism In Young Goodman Brown


Nathaniel Hawthorne's work is typically fraught with symbolism, much of it deriving from his Puritan ancestry; a great-great uncle was actually a judge in the Salem witchcraft trials (Roth 76). Not surprisingly, Hawthorne was obsessed with the twin themes of sin and guilt. Author John Roth notes that A number of recurring thematic patterns and character types appear in Hawthorne's novels and tales. These repetitions show Hawthorne's emphasis on the effects of events on the human heart rather than
the events themselves (76). Because he is speaking of what we later would come to call the unconscious, Hawthorne extensively employed the use of symbolism, which bypasses the conscious, logical mind to tap into its more dreamlike processes.
The story begins as a conventional allegory, creating the expectation that the characters will consistently exhibit the abstractions they symbolize (Levy 116). Young Goodman Brown is an allegory whose characters play a major role in displaying the determination of what to believe and what not to believe. The short story represents one man's wild journey to leave his faith, home, and security temporarily behind to take a chance with the devil on an adventure into a dark forest. In his short story Young Goodman Brown, the main character goes off into the forest and undergoes a life-transforming experience there. The forest is a very real symbol of the test of strength, courage, and endurance; it took real fortitude to survive in the forest, and a young person entering this forest would not emerge the same. However, this story is more symbolic than realistic, and the dangers are of the spirit. The story is a dream
vision, or conscious day dream, that explains the theme of the story as being a formal allegory composed of massive symbolism. Many symbols help the protagonist Goodman Brown move toward a vision of evil which causes an unexpected effect of distrust due to his uncertain decision of experiencing a dream or reality. In Young Goodman Brown the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, creates a short story that displays a clearly abstracted allegory through the determination of the conscious and unconscious, composed of an enormous amount of symbolism interpreted from the setting, characters, and plot in the story.
To begin with, an allegory is a form of extended metaphor in which objects persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The underlying meaning has moral, social, religious, or political significance, and characters are often personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, or envy (Bereng 1). In this case, the story's setting, characters, and plot represent abstract concepts such as faith, innocence, and evil. The story is allegorically centered around Young Goodman Brown. The characters' names, Goodman and Faith, obviously indicate how Hawthorne uses them as a religious allegory to stand up against the evil in the story.
It is no accident that such an experience should have taken place in a forest, for there is a long and extremely profound tradition in our literature for experiences of this
nature having taken place in forest settings. Psychologist Bruno Betelheim, for example, shows that in the folk tale The Three Bears, Goldilocks encounters the cottage of the three bears in a forest; in Hansel and Gretel, the children's father takes them off into the forest to abandon them and they have to find their way back out; in Red Riding Hood, the little girl has to travel through the forest to her grandmother's house.
Betelheim also observes that Since ancient times the near-impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious. If we have lost the framework which gave structure to our past life and must now find our own way to become ourselves, and have entered this wilderness with an as yet undeveloped personality, when we succeed in finding our own way out we shall emerge with a much more highly-developed humanity (Betelheim 94). However, this does not happen in Young Goodman Brown. Instead of bravely battling down the dangers of the forest and emerging more mature, Goodman Brown emerges a ruined man. In order to determine why, it is necessary to look at some of the other symbols in the