Morality And Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

1162 words - 5 pages

"Young Goodman Brown" was published in 1835, when Nathaniel Hawthorne was 31 years old. Hawthorne was born and reared in Salem, Massachusetts, a village still permeated by its 17th century Puritanism. When he was four, Hawthorne's father  died, and from that point on he was surrounded mostly by females: two sisters, a maiden aunt, and a retiring mother who was not close to her children. He had little contact with his deceased father's family, but his maternal relatives were supportive and saw to it that he attended college, the first in his family to do so (Turner 33). During four years at college, despite his reclusive nature, he established close friendships with his male classmates, several of which he maintained for life. These four years of shared human companionship were contrasted by the following twelve years of self-imposed isolation spent in the upper floor of his mother's home in Salem, trying to master the art of writing. It was during those twelve years of isolation, while researching local New England history for background use in his fiction, that Hawthorne made a startling discovery. His 17th century paternal ancestors, whom he had assumed to have been yeoman farmers or seafaring men, had been illustrious founders as well as political and religious Puritan leaders of Salem. "Young Goodman Brown" was influenced by this Puritan heritage; by Hawthorne's personality which had acquired a skeptical, dual-outlook on life; and by Hawthorne's mental and moral beliefs thathe revealed. Hawthorne struggles with his own morality within his own biographical framework in "Young Goodman Brown."

Hawthorne viewed his Puritan ancestors with a mixture of pride and guilt. He felt pride in seeing the history of his own family interwoven with that of Salem (Turner 5). He was proud of their prominence and accomplishments that greatly overshadowed the declining fortunes of subsequent generations. On the other hand, he felt guilt for his ancestor's part in witch trials and intolerant prosecution of Quakers. In "Young Goodman Brown" the devil tells Brown that "I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly" (Hawthorne 2131). Historians of Hawthorne's day were harshly critical of the witch trials and inflexible Puritan ideology of the 17th century. Many current publications and lectures condemned the cruel intolerance of Puritans, and Hawthorne anticipated reader interest as an added incentive for using his Puritan heritage  as a background for his work. "Hawthorne's fullest display of witch lore is in one of the first tales he wrote, 'Young Goodman Brown"' (Turner 67). When Brown marveled that Goody Cloyse, who had taught him his catechism was in the forest after dark (Hawthorne 2131), he referred to an historical witch.

Hawthorne had a skeptical, dual-outlook on life. By the time “Young  Goodman Brown” was published he had chosen to spend approximately one-third of his life in self-imposed isolation. Though...

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