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Young Goodman Brown | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Young Goodman Brown | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In "Young Goodman Brown" how do "the blue arch" and stars support the motif of light versus dark?

In his crisis of faith Young Goodman Brown "looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him." He is reassured by the constancy of "the blue arch," which remains just as blue as the last time he looked, back when he was sure heaven was real. The stars are "brightening"—light represents goodness—and they give Brown hope: "With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" When the speeding cloud appears, it hides the hopeful blue and the goodly stars. In essence Brown is cut off from heaven. Stars also represent guidance; without the guidance of God and the stars Brown is alone in an evil world. When the cloud carries off his Faith and his faith, he is irreversibly alone.

In "Young Goodman Brown" how does Hawthorne make it clear the cloud is supernatural?

When a cloud blocks the stars, Young Goodman Brown can see clear sky all around it. Hawthorne indicates this is no ordinary cloud by showing it moving deliberately: "A cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurried across the zenith." How can a cloud hurry without wind? Perhaps it is powered by evil. Brown also recognizes his neighbors' voices in the cloud: "Then came a stronger swell of those familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine at Salem village, but never until now from a cloud of night." At first Brown might think this unusual cloud carries only souls, but soon he will discover it carries those souls within bodies. When Faith's lament is followed by a pink ribbon descending from the sky, Brown knows the supernatural cloud is carrying her off body and soul.

What surprises Young Goodman Brown about the voices in the cloud and the people at the meeting?

Young Goodman Brown's first impression of the voices in the cloud is that they belong to both good and bad people: "men and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at the communion table, and had seen others rioting at the tavern." Later the narrator refers to them as "all the unseen multitude, both saints and sinners." This echoes back to the story's beginning when Brown leaves Salem village to enter the forest and wonders if "an unseen multitude" is hiding behind the trees. Here they are again, still unseen but now heard. At the meeting Brown is surprised to see honorable elders of high rank, young virgins, "men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame," and even criminals: "It was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were the sinners abashed by the saints." Now Brown must admit evil is not relegated to criminals and the openly sinful. Evil is not something outside, far away, to be visited for just one night; it is within all humans. We are equals in sin.

What is the significance of Young Goodman Brown crying out, "My Faith is gone!"?

When Young Goodman Brown realizes his wife has been carried away by the supernatural cloud, he cries out that his Faith, his wife, is gone. However, Brown's personal faith—his religious beliefs and convictions—is gone as well. When his wife was safe Brown still could believe in goodness. Losing her makes Brown give up on humanity and the world: "There is no good on earth ... Come, devil; for to thee is this world given." When he loses his faith in goodness and his battle to hold evil at bay, the worst of Brown's nature takes over, and he becomes "the chief horror" of the forest: "In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown."

How does Young Goodman Brown's behavior change after he realizes Faith is gone on the cloud?

After the cloud flies away with Faith, Young Goodman Brown is stunned for a moment, but then he laughs maniacally and flies through the forest with the Dark Figure's maple staff. Suddenly the good man who began the evening in fear and shame has nothing to lose. In his grief-stricken madness he invites all dangers, saying they have as much to fear from him as he does from them. He laughs at the wind, brandishes the staff, and curses God, all contrary to his previous mild disposition. When a voice cries out for the converts to step toward the evil congregation, Brown does so, feeling "a loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart." This boldness and willingness to be identified contrasts with Brown's earlier efforts to hide from Goody Cloyse and the invisible riders.

In "Young Goodman Brown" how do Hawthorne's details about the forest contribute to the story's mood?

Hawthorne's details about the forest contribute to a mood of isolation, fear, and foreboding. Young Goodman Brown "had taken 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." The forest is alive, scarcely permitting a path to travel through it and blocking travelers from turning back to the safety of town. Hawthorne's word choices—dreary, darkened, gloomiest—add to readers' growing trepidation. Later the forest conveys a sensory explosion. "The whole forest was peopled with frightful sounds—the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of Indians; while sometimes the wind tolled like a distant church bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar around the traveller, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn." The wind laughs, and Brown laughs back. What at first sounds like hymns turns out to be "all the sounds of the benighted wilderness pealing in awful harmony together." Along with the congregation, the forest is complicit in bringing Brown to the assembly and in worshipping the devil. "There came a sound, as if the roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howling beasts, and every other voice of the unconcerted wilderness were mingling and according with the voice of guilty man in homage to the prince of all." The mood has gone from gloomy to terrifying.

How does Young Goodman Brown's interaction with Nature relate to Romanticism and Transcendentalism?

The only reference to Nature—with the Romanticist's capital N—is the forest making noises in response to Young Goodman Brown's loss of faith, "as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn." Humanity's union with Nature is a romantic ideal; in this story Hawthorne suggests Nature and man are united by evil. Though he lived among the Transcendentalists at times, Hawthorne did not believe in the innate goodness of man as his neighbors did. The Dark Figure says, "Depending upon one another's hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind." Nothing else in the story contradicts his statement. Whether Brown's frightful night is a dream or a supernatural reality, Brown lives and dies as if the devil rules the world.

In "Young Goodman Brown" what does the color red represent?

Based on the story's mood and Hawthorne's word choices—dark, dreary, gloomy—readers are apt to imagine a landscape of grays and browns. There are "black pines" and the sky is a "blue arch," but readers know to pay attention when the color red is mentioned. Depending on the context red can mean many things: love, passion, blood, fire, a state of emergency, or a stop signal. Young Goodman Brown is flying through the dense forest, wild with grief and laughing at the wind, when he sees red. The narrator says it is like a bonfire, and readers will rightly imagine it to be like hellfire. The color red tells Brown to stop, but it also represents Satan and hell, and soon after, blood: "A basin was hollowed, naturally, in the rock. Did it contain water, reddened by the lurid light? or was it blood? or, perchance, a liquid flame?" The red of blood means violence and a threat to life. The red of the baptismal fluid, the impossible "liquid flame," represents evil.

In "Young Goodman Brown" how and why is the fire in the clearing different from other fires?

Fires are natural, but the fire in the clearing is supernatural. When Young Goodman Brown first steps into the clearing he sees "four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting." This can't be a natural fire; the tops of the trees are burning but not the other parts. Then the fire creates an arch for the ceremony: "At the same moment the fire on the rock shot redly forth and formed a glowing arch above its base." Later fire is "a sheet of flame," "the blaze of the hell-kindled torches," and "a liquid flame." Fire's supernatural behavior shows the devil's presence and power; he has created a temporary hell on earth.

At the meeting in "Young Goodman Brown" how is the Dark Figure's appearance different, and what does this signify?

The Dark Figure took the form of Old Goodman Brown, the main character's grandfather, at the beginning of the story. Yet Young Goodman Brown and Goody Cloyse have no trouble recognizing the Dark Figure as the devil. Later at the meeting the Dark Figure takes the shape of a high Church leader: "With reverence be it spoken, the figure bore no slight similitude, both in garb and manner, to some grave divine of the New England churches." Then he is referred to as "the dark figure" and "the sable form"—dark and black symbolize evil. The devil is so terrifying not only because he can make people disappear or transport them on a cloud but also because he can take on any appearance: that of someone you know, someone you love, or someone right beside you. This contributes to Brown's future life of distrust.

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