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The importance of symbols in nathaniel hawthornes young goodman brown

That is, he writes about the nature of historical understanding by referring to historical situations or figures. In his better works he writes about this history allegorically, which I hope to clarify in this essay.

As he offers these concrete meanings, however, he allows more permissive, democratic, responses to his stories.

Bercovitch, Daly, Diffee, Grossman. Much recent critical work on The Scarlet Letter assumes that part of the allegorical meaning of the letter A is this: A stands for America as a nation. While such brief quotation cannot do Bercovitch's book justice, it can demonstrate how Hawthorne's aesthetic and historical use of the Puritans extends into issues of the nineteenth-century.

As such, it offers not only a viable understanding of how the three primary Hawthornian qualities of history, allegory, and moralism combine, indeed depend on one another, but it suggests how Hawthorne's allegory functions as history. They do not present a history of significant persons and events which determine the social or political course of the nation, in the sense that Hawthorne's friend, George Bancroft, would think of history.

Bancroft fully accepted the predominant nineteenth-century concepts of historical progress and Manifest Destiny. Hawthorne would have agreed generally with Bancroft, I believe, on the moral nature of their separate types of historic endeavors. But Hawthorne was more skeptical as Bercovitch makes clear in Office about the notions of freedom and progress than was Bancroft, and he saw things more complexly, perhaps because he was not considering history in terms of grand and sweeping events as much as he was analyzing the operations of historical forces or considering the effects of historical forces on everyday people.

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So, I suggest, his allegorical fictions are, in a sense, true representations of historical facts. Or, put simply, his fictions are histories. Not the best histories. But they are histories, nonetheless as valid as, say, George Bancroft's history. Histories not as voluminous, perhaps, as Bancroft's; not as attached to precise temporalities or occurrences; not as simply or superficially causal as a nineteenth-century historian's depiction of the influence of institutional, economic, or personal forces.

But they are histories as detailed and specific in their own way, and more completely and intricately expressive of national character and psychology and identity; more analytical and exploratory of how ideology shapes the thoughts, and thus the actions, of the citizenry; more expressive of the the importance of symbols in nathaniel hawthornes young goodman brown workings of a democracy in action at a human level, the level at which a democracy is, by definition, concerned; and more expressive of the daily human workings of a democracy and how these daily workings continue and perpetuate ideology; more expressive, in short, of a lived or living, common or democratic history.

Complacently, he assumes that he will encounter the ultimate evil face to face, remain untainted, and return to his new wife unchanged, thus proving his Faith. Or rather his Faith fails him. Assured of the truth of their religion the Faiththey voyaged forth into the wilderness, where they knew Satan was in residence.

Hard as the struggle would be in their war with the devil, their earthly success was assured if they kept their part of the Covenant of Grace and maintained their faith. Colacurcio identifies it 288. Brown and those aboard the Arabella, or the Mayflower, are a model of Christian charity, assuming their community is one fellowship bonded in the love of Christ. So as Brown thinks well of himself, generously he thinks well of others in his community who also further the means and end of glorifying Christ through their lives—ministers, deacons, and catechists.

The complacency and presumption, in other words, are not merely an individual inclination, but a collective one. Book 1, Chapter 9 tells. The irony establishes the generosity or charity as false, therefore as presumption.

Furthermore, such presumption can result in cruel, unchristian actions, and hence hypocrisy, as Hawthorne suggests early in the story. The devil claims acquaintance with Brown's familial ancestry, that is with his Puritan heritage: And it was I that brought your father the pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village. Or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the least rumor of the sort would have driven them from New-England. In short, the Puritans, like Brown, did not see themselves for what they were, people who rationalized their less-than-Christian acts their destructive religio- and ethnocentric acts into acts of Divine Providence or construed them as acts attesting to God's glory.

And if excused thus, they will continue to be blind to the evil results of their actions and continue to commit them. Brown carries with him into the woods a conviction that there is evil within him—else why is he going to meet the devil? And with his conviction of his own depravity, Brown also carries a conviction that, if his community is a fellowship, then there is evil in its other members, too.

Hence, he needs to hide when he hears voices of people approaching in the woods.

Symbolism in Young Goodman Brown

He needs to hide himself, his own evil, from them, and he needs to shield himself from the fact that there might be evil in them. In effect, in this complex and conflicting psychological state Brown must isolate himself from his community and hide himself from himself.

There is, after all, a close family resemblance between him and the devil, and the devil reminds him early during their meeting in the forest of the diabolical tendencies of Brown's family, of the devil's past associations with his grandfather and father.

So not only is Brown suspicious of himself, he is suspicious of his community especially of those in the last generation who taught him his faith and of his family roots those from whom he inherited his faith.

In short, what the Puritans brought with them, along with their model of Christian charity and election, were other tenets of Calvinism, including a conviction of their own innate depravity—original sin. The confusion of the doctrine has caused an interior confusion—spiritual and psychological—that results finally in despair: Ironically, Brown's Faith has in fact driven him to the ultimate sin of despair.

  • Nina Baym et al;
  • Hard as the struggle would be in their war with the devil, their earthly success was assured if they kept their part of the Covenant of Grace and maintained their faith;
  • True Stories from History and Biography;
  • But, as Colacurcio knows and writes about at length, there is much more to this story, and I would suggest that a broader-reaching moral stems from the story's portrayal of how ideology effects and affects incipient and future American society and its members.

Brown's bewilderment caused by the conflicting doctrines of his faith is shared by the voices of his community, in the cloud and throughout the forest. Maintaining that belief in the face of intractable damnation is much more difficult, perhaps impossible. True, the Puritans' doctrines, arguably the balance between Election and damnation, attempted to allow for such comfort. But from Hawthorne's perspective, when these doctrines were applied, they failed to achieve this balance. Rather, their effect was the opposite.

I suggest that this self-satisfaction is precisely what Brown stands for, but not, as Johnson claims, as a description of an individual Puritan nor as a representation of the universal human situation, but as a portrayal of the collective American Puritan experience.

In short, while American Puritans had the tools, the sermons to which Johnson refers, to examine their own collective heart and soul, I would add that they simply did not examine them very well, or could not effect from such examination an appropriate level of psychological comfort.

What stopped them, ironically, was the psychological confusion, not balance, caused by the conflicts of presumption, the belief into depravity of the human soul, and the belief in a predetermined spiritual existence.

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Without free will, however, one's existence remains illusory and dreamlike, not substantial. From a devout Puritan's perspective, this question could be answered: God triumphs over Satan, and one accepts the reality of God's control and lives according to the covenant. But, Hawthorne asks, what about the individuals and the society that are spiritually and psychologically confused chiefly because they accept the doctrine of predetermination? How do they, under their indoctrinated conditions, prevail when they face Satan?

On the surface he accepts his faith, believing it will sustain him through his dealings with the devil. That is, he believes that love of Christ, the Covenant of Grace, and charity to his fellow Puritans will see him through.

  • The allegorical symbolism suggests that America in the first one-third of the nineteenth century, because of its intellectual and psychological inheritance, was in danger of confusing—and thereby forsaking—its basic principles of justice and equality for the individual;
  • Brown's bewilderment caused by the conflicting doctrines of his faith is shared by the voices of his community, in the cloud and throughout the forest;
  • But not loathful because blasphemous;
  • Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices;
  • At least, there were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls.

He believes, in other words, that his Puritan community is on the path of goodness and righteousness and can thus confront and overcome human evil the devil when they meet it him. But Brown's Faith forsakes him. And it is not simply that his faith leaves him when he breaks the covenant, and without that faith and the power of God it brings through the covenant he cannot stand up to the devil. Rather, it is impossible for him to maintain such faith in the goodness and righteousness of his errand when his doctrine insists simultaneously that he is damned and that he has not the will to do anything about it.

It is not Brown who determined that there was no hope, nor is it God. Brown is arguably responsible for his personal hopelessness, though as a product of his society, he, alone, I would argue, is not singly responsible. His community, his religion, his society determined the gloom of his dying hour. Of course, the place and time period of the story's setting, Salem around the witch outbreak of 1692, also suggest the destructive force of Puritan belief.

The combination of presumption and predetermined damnation causes an internal psychological conflict, as in Brown, but it also causes a communal hysteria.

The fear, perhaps paranoia is not too strong a word, that is nurtured by the conflict eventually results in a need to purge the evil by scapegoating members of the community. Brown, and other community members like him, could easily attempt to preserve their own sense of goodness by accusing—and in some instances hanging—their fellows in Christ.

The Puritans will continue to perpetuate this hopelessness and self-damnation, as they have perpetuated their relationship with the devil from grandfather to father to Brown, if they maintain their conflicting beliefs in election and damnation, and particularly if they maintain their doctrine of divine predetermination over free will. But with free will, there is a chance that they can shape their own actions and beliefs so as to allow the balance between election and human evil.

  • Hawthorne's Reoccupations of History;
  • Race, Authorship, The Scarlet Letter;
  • It is certainly an extremely fanciful, even fantastic, story, with staffs crawling away like snakes, with trees and rocks ablaze only to be damp and cool to the touch in the passing of an instant;
  • In short, while American Puritans had the tools, the sermons to which Johnson refers, to examine their own collective heart and soul, I would add that they simply did not examine them very well, or could not effect from such examination an appropriate level of psychological comfort;
  • The confusion of the doctrine has caused an interior confusion—spiritual and psychological—that results finally in despair:

As in chapter seven of Exodus there are two types of staffs, both turning into serpents: As such, it implies that the Puritan doctrine linked for generations with Satan results, as would the sorcerers' serpents, in destruction of community, neighbors, and individuals. Perhaps a portent of such destruction is signified by the devil giving to Brown the second staff the walking stick he makes of a maple branch.

Were the Puritan doctrine different, however, acknowledging freedom of will and enabling good works, the staff could be like Aaron's and a symbol of good. The possibility of the second staff being like Aaron's implies a moral lesson in the reverse.

And most importantly, it instructs them that they have the power to change their destiny if they understand how those forces operate on them so that they are able to confront and resist them when they threaten their existence. One of the main functions of allegory, he believes, is to point out the path to goodness. Had Brown believed in free will, he could, possibly, have escaped his end.

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Had he free will, then confronting evil in himself, in his ancestors, and in his religious teachers would not be traumatizing because there would be a viable, possible alternative to damnation, viable because one could actually do something about it.

But free will means one has to earn, or make, one's salvation. It does not necessarily solve Brown's problem by guaranteeing him salvation, for earning salvation is no easy task. It means that one has to confront and overcome that evil that he meets in the forest, or the evil that is in each human heart.

  1. Recall, Brown argues to the devil that he Brown has nothing to do with the government, but, as I have said, the government has to do with Brown—in the seventeenth century of American Puritanism and in the nineteenth century of Hawthorne. What stopped them, ironically, was the psychological confusion, not balance, caused by the conflicts of presumption, the belief into depravity of the human soul, and the belief in a predetermined spiritual existence.
  2. But Hawthorne was more skeptical as Bercovitch makes clear in Office about the notions of freedom and progress than was Bancroft, and he saw things more complexly, perhaps because he was not considering history in terms of grand and sweeping events as much as he was analyzing the operations of historical forces or considering the effects of historical forces on everyday people.
  3. When defining symbolism means the author is practicing the representing of things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character.

To do this he needs help, and it is not much help to simply condemn. But an understanding of how ideologies can be destructive, even when on the surface they appear to be good, is certainly instructive and helpful. Knowing how an individual arrives at his convictions allows him to change them. In the very condemnation of Brown, in the devil's words at Brown's induction into the cult, is the key: By the sympathy of your human hearts for sin, ye shall scent out all the places—whether in church, bed-chamber, street, field, or forest—where crime has been committed, and shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, one mighty blood-spot.

Far more than this! It shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than human power—than my power, at its utmost!

What is the symbolic meaning of Young Goodman Brown's journey?

Now are ye undeceived! Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome, again, my children, to the communion of your race! From a Puritan perspective this belief or conversion to the Arminian heresy is diabolical, but from another perspective it is liberating. Yes, with free will comes the danger of doing great harm to one another: That is, they can place evil in one another's hearts.

But the Puritan doctrine drives them to do that anyway, without any effective recourse to change.