Ambiguity And Uncertainty In Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

1536 words - 6 pages

Ambiguity and Uncertainty in Young Goodman Brown

    In "Young Goodman Brown," Nathaniel Hawthorne, through the use of deceptive imagery, creates a sense of uncertainty that illuminates the theme of man's inability to operate within a framework of moral absolutism.  Within every man there is an innate difference between good and evil and Hawthorne's deliberate use of ambiguity mirrors this complexity of human nature. Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, is misled by believing in the perfectibility of humanity and in the existence of moral absolutes. According to Nancy Bunge, Hawthorne naturally centers his story upon a Puritan protagonist to convey the "self-righteous" that he regards as the "antithesis of wisdom"(4). Consequently, Young Goodman Brown is unable to accept the indefinable vision of betrayal and evil that he encounters in the forest. The uncertainty of this vision, enhanced by Hawthorne's deliberate, yet effective, use of ambiguity, is also seen in the character of Faith, the shadows and darkness of the forest, and the undetectable boundaries that separate nightmarish dreams from reality.

 

The ambiguity surrounding Young Goodman Brown's wife, Faith, immediately becomes apparent at the story's beginning. As Young Goodman Brown is leaving his comfortable and reverent Puritan home to embark upon this mysterious journey, Faith unexpectedly plunges her "pretty head into the street" allowing the wind to tousle and "play with the pink ribbons of her cap"(1199). Hawthorne uses natural imagery, such as the image of the wind "playing" with Faith's pink ribbons, to convey Faith's attachment to nature; the dark and mysterious part of life that is somewhere outside the constraints of Puritan society. In fact, the imagery of nature associated with the wind becomes even more extreme later on in the story, because it provides a compelling contrast between Faith's complex and natural role within the ambiguous part that nature plays and Young Goodman Brown's detached role in it. This contrast is easily revealed in the following sentence: "the wind tolled like a distant church-bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveler, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn" (Hawthorne 1204). Whereas the wind affectionately "plays" with Faith's pink ribbons, it noisily taunts Young Goodman Brown. Also, as Nina Baym suggests, both the wind and the pink ribbons may, in fact, provide "concrete symbols that link the saving power of the woman with her body and through her body to Nature" (138). Hawthorne visually enhances the ambiguity surrounding Faith's dual role in nature through his repetitive and symbolic use of the pink ribbons. There is deceit and uncertainty in the very color pink that exists somewhere between the extremes of white, representing grace and purity, and red, symbolizing fiery passion and sin. However, Young Goodman Brown, in his naïve belief of moral absolutes, is unable to decide upon the essentially complex double...

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