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Young Goodman Brown | Study Guide

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Young Goodman Brown | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" was first published in 1835 in New England Magazine and then later in a collection of stories called Mosses from an Old Manse. Hawthorne set the story in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials. "Young Goodman Brown" is an allegory, a narrative in which elements have symbolic relationships to ideas. The story exposes the contradictions inherent in the Puritan belief that certain people are the elect, or chosen by God and ensured a place in heaven.

When the title character enters a forest to meet with the mysterious Dark Figure, his journey represents religious questioning. What he finds in the woods causes him to lose his belief in both God and humanity. This story of a man seeking faith and belief—and questioning society's rules—has had universal appeal since its publication.

1. Hawthorne's ancestor was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials.

John Hathorne, Nathaniel Hawthorne's great-great-grandfather, was chosen by the governor of Massachusetts to be a judge in the Salem Witch Trials. Rather than acting as an impartial judge, however, Hathorne questioned the accused as if he were a prosecutor, trying to get them to confess and to name other witches.

2. Two of the characters in "Young Goodman Brown" are named after real people charged with witchcraft.

"Young Goodman Brown" is set in Salem, Massachusetts, during the infamous witch trials. Two characters in the story, Goody Cloyse and Goody Cory, are named after real women who were accused of witchcraft: Sarah Cloyce and Martha Corey. Sarah was never indicted, but Martha was found guilty and hanged for being a witch.

3. The mention of "witch ointment" in "Young Goodman Brown" refers to an actual recipe.

In 1836 Hawthorne worked for the American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge. He edited an article called "Witch Ointment," which provided a recipe that gave witches the power to fly: "the fat of children, digged out of their graves, and of the juices of smallage, cinque-foil and wolf's bane, mingled with the meal of fine wheat." In "Young Goodman Brown," Goody Cloyse says, "I was all anointed with the juice of small-age and cinquefoil and wolf's-bane"; the Devil adds, "Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe."

4. Men were also charged with witchcraft.

When the Salem witch hysteria began in 1692, John Proctor spoke out against the trials, calling the girls who were making accusations of witchcraft liars. His pregnant wife, Elizabeth, was accused of witchcraft, and not long after John Proctor was also accused. Proctor and his wife were both convicted; he was hanged immediately, but her hanging was delayed until after her child was born.

5. Herman Melville compared Hawthorne to Shakespeare and Dante.

In 1850 Moby-Dick author Herman Melville wrote a rapturous article on Hawthorne for the Literary World. He compared Hawthorne to Shakespeare, saying, "Now, I do not say that Nathaniel of Salem is a greater than William of Avon, or as great. But the difference between the two men is by no means immeasurable." And about "Young Goodman Brown" in particular, Melville said, "It is as deep as Dante." After the piece was published, Hawthorne and Melville became great friends.

6. "Young Goodman Brown" was satirized in a webcomic.

Artist Kate Beaton, who has created online comic versions of many literary classics and historical events, chose to create a comic based on "Young Goodman Brown." Her site, Hark! A Vagrant, offers a satirical, short version of the story filtered through a modern sensibility.

7. There's a video game based on "Young Goodman Brown."

In 2016 a video game based on "Young Goodman Brown" made its debut. The game allows players to experience "the fusion of Literature and games with dialogue and narrative true to the 1835 classic" and to "transform from a humble every man into a Faustian necromancer bearing the forbidden knowledge of good and evil."

8. Henry James loved "Young Goodman Brown" despite his dislike of allegory.

In his book Hawthorne, writer Henry James, a key figure in 19th-century literary realism, states that he does not much like allegory: "I frankly confess that I have as a general thing but little enjoyment of it and that it has never seemed to me to be, as it were, a first-rate literary form." But about "Young Goodman Brown," he says it is "the highest point that Hawthorne reached in this direction," and elsewhere in the book refers to it as a "magnificent little romance."

9. Hawthorne was found dead by a former U.S. president.

Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, and Hawthorne became friends at Bowdoin College in the 1820s. When Pierce was elected president in 1853, he made Hawthorne a U.S. consul. Though Pierce made many enemies as president, Hawthorne stuck by him. In 1864 the friends were traveling together and slept at a hotel in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Noting that Hawthorne lay very still, Pierce stated, "I seized his wrist, but found no pulse; ran my hands down upon his bare side, but the great, generous, brave heart beat no more."

10. A cricket injury led to Hawthorne's love of books.

At age 13 Hawthorne injured his foot playing cricket. The injury was severe enough to keep him convalescing for several months, with an occasional relapse. Some critics believe his long recovery was partly psychosomatic, possibly because of the loss of his father not long before. During his recuperation, Hawthorne became an insatiable reader, and his love of literature continued through his life and informed his work as a writer.

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