Symbolism, imagery, and irony in Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown"

Essay by evey806A+, February 2004

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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 his story "Young Goodman Brown". Hawthorne characteristically injects suitable symbolism, imagery, and pessimism into his tale, but the most conspicuous literary device is his intriguing twist of irony at the end.

The character Hawthorne dubs Goodman Brown lives in a Puritan village among pious and devout people. However a problem emerges when Brown meets the devil in the forest and ritually associates with him, although wracked with guilt. Witchcraft and evil in all forms, as in all Puritan villages, is strictly forbidden and not tolerated by the government, as shown by their public witch burnings.

This all seems classic of a Puritan town, but it is all found to be a charade. As many people do, the neighbors of Goodman Brown had been displaying masks exhibiting the proper lifestyle of their community. After the sun had set, they would all disrobe from their proverbial personas and meet with the devil himself in the woods. This provides a very appealing taste of irony in that the guilt and self inflicted seclusion Brown had experienced throughout the story was unneeded because he had been practicing the same sin as the rest of his community, who he felt the need to hide it from.

Hawthorne undoubtedly used the ending of "Young Goodman Brown" as a testament to all cultures and their core-deep hypocrisy. Just as something very much like this probably happened one hundred years ago, it remains to happen today. The irony is just...