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Symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown Essay

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Symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown


     Nathaniel Hawthorne utilizes symbolism throughout his short story Young Goodman Brown to impact and clarify the theme of good people sometimes doing bad things. Hawthorne uses a variety of light and dark imagery, names, and people to illustrate irony and different translations. Young Goodman Brown is a story about a man who comes to terms with the reality that people are imperfect and flawed and then dies a bitter death from the enlightenment of his journey through the woods. Images of darkness, symbolic representations of names and people and the journey through the woods all attribute to Hawthorne's theme of good people sometimes doing bad things.

     The use of dark imagery throughout the story gives you a sense of fear of the unknown that lies ahead of Goodman Brown on his journey. The beginning sentence of the story illustrates an image of a sunset and the approaching of night as Goodman Brown sets off on his mission. ?Young Goodman Brown came forth, at sunset, into the street of Salem village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold.? (196) Here, the light of the sun represents the knowledge that Goodman Brown already has. The imagery of darkness setting in is the unknown knowledge Goodman Brown is out to discover. Goodman Brown must first travel through the darkness of the unknown before he reaches the light of enlightenment and truth that is why he is embarking on his journey throughout the night hours. ?My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done ?twist now and sunrise.? (197)

     The next use of symbolism is the setting of the journey and meeting in the woods. Early Americans looked at the woods as a test of strength, bravery and endurance. It took a lot of courage for someone to enter the forest because it was unknown territory and they would not emerge the same. ?He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all gloomiest trees of the forest?that the traveler knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks?he may be passing through an unseen multitude.? (197) Goodman Brown does not face the dangers of Indians but faces the danger of reality and truth.
Goodman Brown does not emerge from the forest tougher or braver but hateful and spiteful because he becomes enlightened to the ways of world. He comes to terms with the reality tha...


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...er swell of those familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine, at Salem village, but never, until now from a cloud of night.? (202) The use of light and dark imagery in this particular sentence helps you understand Goodman Brown?s despair. He has realized the truth that the people he sees in the daylight hours pretending to be pure and good are the total opposite in the dark.

     Nathaniel Hawthorne uses symbolic imagery throughout his story Young Goodman Brown to impact the theme of good people sometimes do bad things. Hawthorne takes us on a journey of truth and realization. Goodman Brown was not open to the truth or the reality that the world is filled with evil and people are imperfect. His perception of the world was it was a fun loving happy place and when he was exposed to reality he turned away from people and lost faith in them. His faith should have been in God because God will never let you down but his faith was in people and people are imperfect and subject to disappoint you.

Works Cited:

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." 1835. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Lexington: Heath, 1944. 2129-38.




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