A student submission on June’s theme of Good versus Evil
Author: Derrick Yang
In the story of “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, we are introduced to a man who is called Young Goodman Brown that lives in a theocratic society. Brown is making a deal with the devil to get what he wants by meeting him in the woods and later finds out that many people around him have associations with the devil long before he did. Within the story, there were many hints of how the religious aspects are key influences for the characters’ actions altogether with their moral beliefs about what is “good” and what is “evil”. These hints are especially displayed on Goodman Brown, which I argue that the religious aspects that occurs multiple times within the story enhance greatly one’s understanding of “Young Goodman Brown” together with how people that lives in a theocratic define good and evil.
The first instance of religion enhancing the readers’ understanding of the story was numerous situations in which Indians (Native Americans) were referred to as devilish by Goodman Brown himself. Another point that is worth to mention was how Deacon Gookin, a character later who has shown his connection to the devil himself, is commenting that the “Indian” culture is on the same level as theirs, the followers of the devil. Brown lives in Salem, a theocratic society that does not welcome any religious ideas of Christianity other than what they believe themselves, and “Indians” were Native Americans who have many different belief systems that differ from Christian beliefs. This could be seen as an example of what Brown said to himself on his to meet the devil as he promised: “‘There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,’ said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him, as he added, ‘What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!'” (Hawthorne 2). During the passage, we readers see a deep connection between the devil and the “Indians” in Brown’s belief, as Hawthorne implements this detail to emphasize the exclusion of different religious ideas that a theocratic society has. Ironically enough, even with such a strict ideology of what to believe, there are still many people of Salem that went to the evil gatherings deep in the woods.
Another instance where the influence of religion would show up was how Goodman Brown’s reaction progresses when he learned the fact that many people he knows are associated with the devil. At first, Goodman Brown is not willing to continue the walk toward the devil worshiper’s gatherings, claiming that his family is been clean, and he does not want to be the first one who is associated with the devil. The devil convinced Brown to continue walking by telling him how his father and grandfathers were always been good friends with the devil. As Brown is still doubtful about the validity of the truth he has just been heard, another figure came in and gave him a hard punch in his beliefs. This figure is Goody Cloyse, a respected mentor of Brown who taught him the catechism. The devil came over and talked with her, revealing her to be a witch who is acquaintances with evil this whole time. Brown’s belief was deeply shaken, as from there he decided to continue his walk with the devil until he reorganized his thoughts and ultimately decided to stop walking: “‘Friend,’ said he, stubbornly, ‘my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil, when I thought she was going to Heaven! Is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith, and go after her?'” (Hawthorne 5). During his thought organization, Brown changed his attitude toward Goody Cloyse to keep his faith as a Christian, despite how important and inspiring she was in his previous life. After stopping, Brown heard two figures that he also recognizes that was talking to the devil: Deacon Gookin and the minister of Salem. At this point, Brown finally had enough, running away shouting his faith to preserve his right state of mind: “‘With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!’ cried Goodman Brown” (Hawthorne 7). At this point, Brown has already had enough, but there is still faith within him that is supporting his belief in the good in everything.
In the novel, Nathaniel depicted two “Faiths” one being Brown’s wife, and the other being the definition of the verb “Faith”-his belief in God. During the process of learning the ugly truth, Goodman Brown displayed high loyalty to his “Faith” on mankind-Even when he found out that many people he knows and loves are being associated with the devil. But later, Brown found out that his wife Faith was going to be a new member of this evil community tonight, he lost his “Faith” in humanity as he stayed true to his religious “Faith”. Brown’s despair is shown in his quote: “‘My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given'” (Nathaniel 7). At this moment, Brown have “lost Faith” to everything by losing “Faith“, his dear beloved wife. In the end of the story, Brown’s end can be interpreted that he kept his religious faith, as it shows how he did not ever show trust to anyone around ever again including the wife Faith, as his faith in her is gone. Ultimately, Goodman Brown suffered throughout his life, as he learned information that is detrimental to his wellbeing, resulting him staying truthful towards his religious faith, but rejecting his trust for the good in humanity as a whole.
Within the Story of “Young Goodman Brown”, there are many aspects of how would religion plays a role in the plot, and can it be seen and used by us to enhance our understanding of the story. The religious aspect that is seen in a theocratic society influences many of moral and standards to what is considered correct; as in the beginning and towards the middle of the story, Brown and Gookin associating the Indians (Native Americans) with the devil for their culture’s strong belief against other religious ideas. Later on, Goodman Brown’s internal conflict is largely influenced by his theocratic morals, and it ultimately became his source of distrust and suffering throughout his life. Us readers need to know the religious aspects behind the scenes to fully understand what is happening throughout the story, as it will answer why the inner conflict between what is considered good and evil caused Goodman Brown’s despair.