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Ambiguity in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown Essay

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Ambiguity in “Young Goodman Brown”        

 
    Peter Conn in “Finding a Voice in an New Nation” makes a statement regarding Hawthorne’s ambiguity:  “Almost all of Hawthorne’s finest stories are remote in time or place. The glare of contemporary reality immobillized his imagination. He required shadows and half-light, and he sought a nervous equilibrium in ambiguity” (82). There is considerable ambiguity in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” and this essay will examine this and its causes.

 

R. W. B. Lewis in “The Return into Rime: Hawthorne” mentions the ambiguity associated with the key imagery in “Young Goodman Brown”:  “For Hawthorne, the forest was neither the proper home of the admirable Adam, as with Cooper; nor was it the hideout of the malevolent adversary. . . . It was the ambiguous setting of moral choice. . . .” (74-75). Henry James in Hawthorne, when discussing “Young Goodman Brown” mentions how allegorical Hawthorne is, and how it is not clearly expressed with this author:

 

The only cases in which it is endurable is when it is extremely spontaneous, when the analogy presents itself with eager promptitude. When it shows signs of having been groped and fumbled for, the needful illusion is of course absent, and the failure complete. Then the machinery alone is visible and the end to which it operates becomes a matter of indifference (50).

 

When one has to grope for, and fumble for, the meaning of a tale, then there is “failure” in the work, as Henry James says. This unfortunately is the case of “Young Goodman Brown.” It is so ambiguous in so many occasions in the tale that a blur rather than a distinct image forms in the mind of the reader.

 

The Norton Anthology: Amer...


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Lang, H.J.. “How Ambiguous Is Hawthorne.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

 

Lewis, R. W. B. “The Return into Time: Hawthorne.” In Hawthorne – A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by A.N. Kaul. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966.

 

Martin, Terence. Nathaniel Hawthorne. New York: Twayne Publishers Inc., 1965.

 

Melville, Hermann. “Hawthorne and His Mosses.” In The Norton Anthology: American Literature, edited by Baym et al.  New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1995.

 

 “Nathaniel Hawthorne.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature, edited by Baym et al.  New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1995.

 

Wagenknecht, Edward. Nathaniel Hawthorne – The Man, His Tales and Romances. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1989.

 

 

 


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