English Composition 2
The Theme of “Young Goodman Brown”
What is theme? Theme is what the author is saying about the subject of the story. In “Young Goodman Brown” the subject of the story is hypocrisy. In “Young Goodman Brown”, Hawthorne writes in detail how hypocrisy can change a person for the worse.
In the opening pages of the story you can see how hypocrisy is already starting to change Goodman Brown for the worse. As he starts out on his errand that he has to run, Goodman Brown decides to walk as Hawthorne puts it “A dreary road darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind.” (141). The forest is an important symbol in this story. The forest symbolizes evil and it symbolizes evil because of the darkness of the forest. As Goodman Brown and his companion continue their journey through the dark forest Goodman Brown starts to realize this “errand” that he is running is no ordinary one. Goodman Brown knows that he is doing something scorned down on by Puritan beliefs as he says the following: “My father ever went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs. And shall I be the first of the name of Brown that has ever took this path and kept.” (141). So basically what he is saying in that quote is that he knows what he is doing is wrong, but he doesn’t care.
Goodman Brown is hard to convince that his family and the Puritans in general are not as righteous and pure as he thinks they are. The companion tries endlessly to convince Goodman Brown that his own family is not as “pure” as it seems. The traveler tells Goodman some stories of his own family doing dirty things such as setting fire to an Indian Village and lashing a Quaker woman. However Goodman does still not believe any of what the traveler is saying. Continuing on the path Brown and his companion stumble upon Deacon Gookin and his Goody Cloyse and Goodman is astonished by this because he would have never thought that the good wife would be so far in the forest that late at night. By seeing the good wife in the forest at that time of night makes Goodman not want to go on. While sitting on a stump, Goodman yells out “Friend, my mind is made up. Not another step wills I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman 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?” (143) Basically he is quitting what the errand because he senses that what the companion has told him is to eat at him. In other words the hypocrisy is starting to enter his soul and he is trying to keep it from doing that by stopping the journey.
Another example of what Hawthorne is saying about hypocrisy in the story is the part where Goodman hears what the Deacon says as he passes by in the carriage. Goodman is astonished by the words he hears coming from the carriage. Also Brown is amazed that the Deacon would have traveled that far into the dark and dreary forest. As Hawthorne puts it “Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree, for support, being ready to sink to the ground, faint and over-burthened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up to the sky doubting whether there really was a Heaven above him.” (144) Basically Goodman cannot believe what he just heard from the leaders of the Religion of the puritans; he is amazed that impurity lies within the most religious people of the Puritans. It makes him believe what the companion told him about pureness. Seeing all of this makes him say that if no one else wants to stand true to the beliefs of the puritans, not even the Deacon himself, then he was going to be the one who does.
Moreover witnessing all of that Goodman finally understands that purity is no longer what all mankind strives for. As Brown stands their he looks up to see what was once a blue sky has suddenly turned gray. This Gray sky symbolizes the impurity or hypocrisy that has taken over the earth. Goodman also hears sounds from the cloud, which also represent deceit and wickedness. Goodman is really bothered by this and he says, “My Faith is gone there is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come Devil! for to thee the world given.” (145). All Goodman is saying is that the devil can come and take over the world because it is full of sin and wickedness.
In the same way as the others who have given into hypocrisy Goodman himself now gives into the hypocrisy. Hawthorne writes, “In truth all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightening than the figure of Goodman Brown.” This is Hawthorn’s cunning way of saying that Goodman he turned for the worse Brown has now at this point done a complete 360 of his usual pure ways and runs around the forest making obscene gestures and terrible remarks. Hypocrisy has swamped Goodman’s soul to the point where he has a dream that these couples gets converted from Christians to Devil Worshipers and are encouraged to not to look to God but look to the Devil for Guidance and follow the ways of the devil. Hawthorne writes a line to show my point, “Faith! Faith! look up to Heaven, and resist the Wicked One!” So in other words don’t look to god is what Hawthorne is saying.
In conclusion “Young Goodman Brown” is a story about hypocrisy and how it came corrupt the purest of peoples minds if they choose to let it in. This story also shows that even though puritans all may act “pure” on the outside, they aren’t really as pure as everybody makes them out to be