Young Goodman Brown: A Depiction on Puritan Life

Published 20 Oct 2017

Known to be a grandson of a Puritan, Nathaniel Hawthorne can be called credible to know about the beliefs and practices of a Puritan family. He is well aware of the teachings and laws of Puritans regarding Christianity and family life. In his short story entitled Young Goodman Brown, he took a bold move in criticizing the Puritans. With the theme of sin and temptation, Hawthorne emphasized that even Puritans, despite their strong faith on good work and morality, are still susceptible in giving into temptation and sin. They are still vulnerable in being blinded by the evils of the world no matter what their status in the society is.

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The young Goodman Brown had a prosperous Puritan life. He had his faithful wife named Faith by his side and a god-fearing and law-abiding community. But despite of this, he wanted to know more. This was a story of a man “passing from the youthful innocence of Puritan belief into an adult world of cynicism after he gets his answers.” (Burrack)
In Hawthorne’s text, Puritan beliefs can be seen everywhere. The first obvious instance is when Goodman Brown was about to leave Faith and pursue on his short journey to find answers in his life.

“Amen!” cried Goodman Brown. “Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee.” (Hawthorne)
In just this dialogue, the strong attachment of Puritans on the power of prayer is shown. They believe that having a strong faith in God and his teachings, good will come to them. Another thing that is shown in just this dialog is how Puritans strongly abide by rules imposed to them in terms of worship. They do not just pray during meetings but also outside these meetings.

In this short story, Goodman and Faith’s relationship is the ideal bond between married couples that is accepted and followed by the Puritans. They both show devotion to each other. Another dialogue of Goodman that shows this devotion is when he called faith an angel. As Goodman remarked, “after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven.” (Hawthorn)

Goodman’s journey itself in the woods is a depiction of what Puritans strongly believe about men. They believe that men should undergo self-examination about their faith, if they are unworthy of God’s grace. They should have a strict accounting of their feelings as well as their deeds. This is the heart of all their belief. The walk with the devil in the woods is a way of testing his faith in God. His journey was for finding answers about his doubts with his religion. This doubt points to another focus of this short story. Because of the strict moral code and the strong emphasis on the sinfulness of humans, it may have fostered distrusts and doubts to its followers. The doubt of Goodman is just an example of what other Puritans in the past have experienced with their religion. This has shown that Puritans strictly follow the teachings of the Bible in leading their lives. They are very dependent with what they learn in the Bible and they even go to a point where they openly quote their forefathers about passages in the Bible and their teachings about it.

Another point that is depicted in Goodman Brown’s journey was his desire to have full membership in the congregation. Puritans strongly emphasize that in order to have a full membership in this group, one must have a strong spiritual experience with God. The journey is said to be a journey to experience God since it was also a test for his faith.
Another depiction on the life of Puritans was the addressing of a man and a woman as Goodman and Goody. In the early 17th century, Goody and Goodman was a common address for fellow Puritans.

In addition, there is another obvious portrayal of Puritans in the story. This is the construction of the dialogues of the main characters in the short story. It is said that it clearly depicts how the 17th century Puritans spoke with each other. A good example of this specific form of dialogue is when Faith was asking Goodman Brown to postpone his journey for another day because she was worried for him.

“prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s afeared of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all night in the year.’ (Hawthorn)

Within the journey, Goodman Brown realized that even the elect people, those who had status in their society, were also prone to evil and its temptation. He was opened to a world where Puritans are not just good men who will live for God’s grace but they are also men who have weaknesses against temptation if their faith is not strong enough. He realized that even though the elect has a very high standing on education and on the knowledge regarding the teachings of the Bible and has a lot of experience about it, they can also make mistakes. This means that the hierarchy of the community of Puritans does not necessarily mean a perfect arrangement. In the story, the elect and the good people were found attending a Black Mass and praising the devil.

Since the story was a critique of Nathaniel Hawthorne on Puritan beliefs, readers may have seen another side of the coin where Hawthorne did not completely notice. This may be the strong attachment of a Puritan to his belief. Despite the doubts of Goodman Brown, he continued his life as a Puritan. Although his life and even death was a gloomy one, the story did not mention of him leaving the religious sect. In fact, until he died Goodman Brown stayed as a Puritan.

Another trait that he might have failed to notice was the fear of isolation of an individual. It might have been Goodman’s strong attachment to the group or it might also be his fear of isolation. Despite the doubts he conjured since that evening, he might also have stayed for another reason —– because he was scared that upon showing doubts, the Puritans will put him into exile and leave the people especially his wife whom he loved so much.

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