“Young Goodman Brown” is a short story that can be interpreted many different ways. There are obvious questions, for instance; were the events in the story merely a dream, or were they an actual experience? There are also less obvoious questions. Did Young Goodman Brown know he would meet the devil
in the woods all along? Both of these questions could be argued either way. One of the main reasons the short story is open to such speculation, is the author’s extensive use of symbolism
. Indeed, almost every element in Nathaniel Hawthorne
’s story alludes to something greater than the element itself. A look into these telling elements can be very helpful in understanding the story.
One of the first symbols seen in the story deals with Young Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith. She symbolizes everything that is good and Christian to Goodman Brown. Her name in itself is a clue to this true meaning, as later in the story Goodman Brown is heard calling “Faith! Faith! Look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!” He is both calling upon his wife for comfort, and upon his religion and values for support. The pink ribbons in Faith’s hair suggest that she is innocent and uncorrupted . The symbol of Faith is easy to see, but other elements’ meanings are not quite as certain.
One element that has an uncertain symbolic value is the “black mass of cloud” that obscures Goodman Brown’s view of the reassuring sky above. “Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices.” The voices of the many people that Goodman Brown hears from the cloud, he knows from Salem village. The fact that some of the voices are extremely godly while others are viciously evil helps undermine Goodman Brown’s sense of right and wrong. This cloud is a symbol of Goodman Brown’s uncertainty and doubt in his faith. He is discovering more and more people are not what they seem.
In other tales there is one main symbol that carries the entire story, such as the cat in “The Black Cat.” I don’t believe there is any such main symbol in “Young Goodman Brown.” However, symbolism plays an even larger role here, woven as it is throughout every part of the story. “Young Goodman Brown” is not a story that can only be read on the surface, one must have a grasp of the many symbols used to truly see the story for what it is.
node your homework!
Mrs. Jayne M. C. Buono
English 101 February 22, 2000