Puritan Depravity and Distrust in Young Goodman Brown
Puritan doctrine taught that all men are totally depraved and require constant self-examination to see that they are sinners and unworthy of God's Grace. Because man had broken the Covenant of Works when Adam had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, God offered a new covenant to Abraham's people which held that election to Heaven was merely a possibility. In the Puritan religion, believers dutifully recognized the negative aspects of their humanity rather than the gifts they possessed. This shadow of distrust would have a direct influence on early American New England and on many of its historians and writers, one of which was Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The influence of Puritan religion, culture and education along with the setting of his hometown of Salem, Massachusetts, is a common topic in Nathaniel Hawthorne's works. In particular, Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" allows the writer to examine and perhaps provide commentary on not only the Salem of his own time but also the Salem of his ancestors. Growing up, Hawthorne could not escape the influence of Puritan society, not only from residing with his father's devout Puritan family as a child but also due to Hawthorne's study of his own family history. The first of his ancestors, William Hathorne, is described in Hawthorne's "The Custom House" as arriving with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 "with his Bible and his sword" (26). A further connection can also be seen in his more notable ancestor John Hathorne, who exemplified the level of zealousness in Puritanism with his role as persecutor in the Salem Witch Trials. The study of his own family from the establishment of the Bay Colony to the Second Great Awakening of his own time parallels the issues brought forth in "Young Goodman Brown." In looking into the history of Salem and especially early Puritan society, Hawthorne is able to discuss the merits and consequences of such zeal, especially the zeal of the Half-Way Covenant of 1662, the Puritan Catechism of John Cotton, and the repercussions of The Salem Witch trials. Hawthorne sets "Young Goodman Brown" into a context of Puritan rigidity and self-doubt to allow his contemporary readers to see the consequences of such a system of belief.
Hawthorne's tale places the newly wed Puritan Brown upon the road to what may or may not be a true conversion experience. The conversion experience - a sudden realization brought about by divine intervention, a vision, or perhaps a dream - easily translates into the dream allegory of Hawthorne's work and allows the author to use Puritan doctrine and the history of Salem to argue the merits and consequences of such a belief. Major issues and themes of Puritanism must have been researched and delicately placed into Hawthorne's discussion of not only past consequences of Puritan zeal but also on the contemporary religious issue of his own time, the Second Great...