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Young Goodman Brown | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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What does the color of Faith's ribbons symbolize in "Young Goodman Brown"?

The pink of Faith's ribbons symbolizes youth and purity. In contrast to the Puritans' convictions about the sinfulness with which everyone is born, the Romanticists believed children were closer to nature than adults and were untainted by immoral experience. The Transcendentalists went further with these ideas; for example, in Bronson Alcott's Conversations with Children on the Gospels (1836), the author recorded what he perceived as the uncorrupted and even Jesus-like wisdom of children. Hawthorne makes Faith's ribbons pink to show she retains a childlike perfection and to emphasize the degree to which Young Goodman Brown has grown mistrustful; he comes to suspect evil in the pure, pink-ribboned wife he once perceived as an angel.

What biblical story does Hawthorne echo through the allegory of "Young Goodman Brown"?

"Young Goodman Brown" tells a story of the devil leading humans to embrace their evil nature. The story echoes The Fall of mankind: the temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. At first Young Goodman Brown and his wife, Faith, are happy and innocent as two people in paradise. Along comes the devil in the form of the Dark Figure; instead of appearing as a serpent, he carries a serpent walking stick. The devil tempts Brown. Faith and Brown stand on the brink of evil as if they are the first woman and man: "And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world." Although they resist the devil's baptism, the Dark Figure passes on his knowledge anyway—not the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in this case; it's just the Knowledge of Evil. Brown doesn't receive the supernatural power of seeing promised by the devil, but he comes to suspect evil everywhere.

In the allegory of "Young Goodman Brown" what role does the Dark Figure play?

The Dark Figure is the devil in the allegory of "Young Goodman Brown." Though he takes various forms—at times he appears in the guise of Young Goodman Brown's father or grandfather, or the head of the Church—the Dark Figure looks as if he would fit in with kings and high society. He has his serpent staff, reminiscent of the snake in the Garden of Eden, which he also used in Egypt long ago. The Dark Figure capitalized on some evil tendency in Young Goodman Brown and tempted him before the story begins; that's why Brown agrees to meet him. The Dark Figure continues to persuade Brown throughout their time together, finally offering Brown and Faith knowledge, similar to his own, about the sins of everyone they meet. This parallels the serpent's actions in the Garden of Eden; the serpent tells Adam and Eve they will have godlike knowledge if they eat the fruit and claims God forbade the fruit only because he doesn't want them to have power like his own.

Why is it significant that the Dark Figure laughs when Young Goodman Brown says, "How should I meet the eye of ... our minister?"

What Young Goodman Brown does not know yet is "that good old man, our minister" is also a minister in the devil's congregation. Brown can't bear the thought of sacrificing his good standing in the community by associating with the devil; he thinks he could never look the minister in the eye again. The devil lists a number of high-ranking public figures—church deacons, town selectmen, even the governor—with whom he has a close relationship, but Brown pays no mind to this because he doesn't know them personally. It is the minister's good opinion he wishes to maintain. The Dark Figure laughs because the minister is in no position to look down on Brown; he too consorts with the devil.

How does Young Goodman Brown's perception of Goody Cloyse change after she meets the Dark Figure in the road?

Young Goodman Brown identifies Goody Cloyse as the woman who taught him his catechism—the basic principles of their religion—when he was a child. He holds her in high esteem as a pious role model and doesn't want her to see him with the Dark Figure. However, she recognizes the devil hurrying to his assembly; worse still she says she usually rides a broomstick. Brown is surprised and disappointed. This is the first time he has experienced hypocrisy in the flesh, not just through the Dark Figure's words. At this point though, Brown still thinks Goody Cloyse is an isolated case: "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?" This incident is not enough to shatter his faith. By the story's end Brown's one-time admiration for Goody Cloyse has turned to fear and disgust. He sees a little girl learning catechism from her and pulls the child away as if he's saving her from the jaws of hell.

In "Young Goodman Brown" to what is Hawthorne alluding when the Dark Figure touches Goody Cloyse on the neck?

During the Salem witch trials of 1692, many Puritans were condemned to death and subsequently hanged. Hawthorne was deeply troubled by the witch trials—the evil of neighbor turning against neighbor and the violence of executing innocent men and women, including some of Hawthorne's relatives—and he was plagued with guilt about his great-great-grandfather's role as judge at the trials. Goody Cloyse calls Goody Cory "an unhanged witch," which suggests hangings are underway or imminent. Goody Cloyse's words also show how impulsively one person might accuse another—of stealing a broomstick or of any other grievance, large or small—quite possibly leading to trial and then to death. The specter of the noose awaited everyone; Hawthorne reminds readers by showing the touch of the devil on Goody Cloyse's neck.

What does it signify when Goody Cloyse calls Young Goodman Brown "the silly fellow"?

Young Goodman Brown greatly admires Goody Cloyse; he took religious direction from her when he was a child and has tried to follow her example ever since. He feels he has done a good job of it—he is an upstanding young man with a devout wife—and he has earned Goody Cloyse's respect. Therefore it must hurt a bit to hear his teacher call him silly and compare him unfavorably to his grandfather. Despite all his efforts to lead a pious life, Goody Cloyse finds fault with him; the evil behind her mask is beginning to show through, revealing her hypocrisy. She calls Brown silly because he is not one of the devil's followers. His grandfather was a follower, according to the Dark Figure, and Goody Cloyse seems to confirm it, referring to the grandfather as "my old gossip"—that is, comrade and confidant. It is growing clearer to Brown that his grandfather and Goody Cloyse are devil worshippers.

Why does Young Goodman Brown hide in the woods when he sees Goody Cloyse and later when he hears riders approaching?

Young Goodman Brown is ashamed. He is becoming aware of the evil inside him, but he isn't ready to face it. When he first sees Goody Cloyse, Brown still thinks she is a holy, pious woman, and he doesn't want her to see him in the Dark Figure's company: "Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with and whither I was going." He hides in the woods while the Dark Figure interacts with her. Without Brown in sight, Goody Cloyse is free to be herself with the Dark Figure—her evil witch self—and Brown realizes her hyprocrisy. Similarly Brown hides when he hears riders approaching, not wanting to cause suspicion: "Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of the guilty purpose that had brought him thither." As he eavesdrops on their candid conversation, including their admission of "deviltry," he loses two more spiritual heroes.

What is unusual about the Dark Figure's new walking stick in "Young Goodman Brown"?

The Dark Figure sends off Goody Cloyse with his serpent-shaped staff, and both she and it disappear. He soon creates a new walking stick by plucking a fresh branch of maple, wet with dew. Young Goodman Brown observes the branch's twigs and smaller branches shrivel and dry up at the Dark Figure's touch. Perhaps the Dark Figure carries within him the heat of hell, curing the wood "as with a week's sunshine"; or maybe the stick changes as he infuses it with supernatural powers. When Brown is ready to go to the devil's assembly, the stick conveys him there, almost like a witch's broomstick. The stick is a useful vehicle—it allows Hawthorne to move the plot along by transporting Brown over a great distance, reconnecting him with the Dark Figure and showing him where the meeting is.

Why does Young Goodman Brown almost faint after hearing the voices of Deacon Gookin and the minister?

Everything Young Goodman Brown holds dear about his faith and his religion is now to be questioned: his admired mentors are devil worshippers. It's an understatement to say Brown is disillusioned. He is now realizing how pervasive evil is in his community—Goody Cloyse was not an isolated case. The Dark Figure tried to tell Brown before, but now Brown is experiencing it firsthand. He is also unnerved by the riders' invisibility. Nothing makes sense, either in the physical or the spiritual world, and Brown is understandably overwhelmed, "doubting whether there really was a heaven above him." Everything he once believed real is an illusion.

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