In 1835, Nathaniel Hawthorne published the tale of “Young Goodman Brown,” a tale that illustrates many configurations of symbolism used to leave the reader planting the pieces together through his characteristics of detail and imagery. Hawthorne’s prime analogy expressed throughout this tale is the loss of vulnerability and pureness when reaching maturity.
The setting of Young Goodman Brown is in Salem, where the Salem witch craft trials were held in the 1600’s. This is the first symbol Hawthorne uses throughout the story as a test of who is innocent at this present time and who is not just as they did during the witch trials. Brown set off to the forest for an unknown ceremony leaving his new wife Faith behind. The name Faith symbolizes his personal faith in his own life and in his spirituality. Faith represents youth and innocence that was carried in his childhood. As we get further into detail the pink ribbons she wore in her hair were of some significance to the tale being conveyed. The pink ribbons exemplify the mix between red and white: red meaning evil and white innocent. As Brown ventures off carefree into the woods he comes across an old man with a serpent shaped cane. The old man is a symbol of the devil. In addition to meeting the old man, the scenery and woods tend to deepen with darkness as the readers reach the climax. As Young Goodman Brown gets further into the woods and arrives at the ceremony he is put in front of Faith as they are deemed to see who is evil and who is not. He tells Faith to pray with her goodness and she will be saved. He looks up to heaven with her but a black cloud hovers over them. When he is awakes, Faith is no longer in front of him and he is standing alone.
Young Goodman Brown returned to the town of Salem a different man. “It was a dream of evil omen for young Goodman Brown. A stern, sad, darkly, meditative, distrustful, if not a desperate man did he become from that fearful dream” (Hawthorne, 124). To sum up the events, young Goodman Brown became just Goodman Brown because as he aged his innocence diminished and his eyes were opened up to the evils of the world. He saw the sins the people around him and even his church allocated. Brown was filled with disappointment and despair because he was too sinful. The world was left for every man for himself. Faiths role in the tale symbolized his faith and how his childhood could never be returned. The pink ribbons illustrated the change from viewing the world as unharmed and unveil to its true colors. The combination between red and white was him losing his childhood and vulnerability to his surroundings. Hawthorne used symbolism in the tale of “Young Goodman Brown” all the way from the names of the characters to the dispersing of light in his imagery. I believe whether it was a dream or not a dream it teaches us a lesson of public mortality. Only we ourselves can choose and decide what is right and wrong. Young Goodman Brown is a simple reflection of every individual today.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown and Other Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. 111_124. Print