Young Goodman Brown: Immature Innocence vs. Mature Guilt In Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne expresses his true feelings about the negative beliefs of the puritan religion through usage of expressive styles and themes, various characters, and objects within the story. Because the puritan religion was in affect during a very complicated and chaotic time known as the Salem Witch Trials many people, including Young Goodman Brown, would be shocked to discover that the pure puritan society they knew was in fact contaminated with evil. Hawthorne uses the main character, Young Goodman Brown, to lucidly convey the story's main theme of corrupted innocence. When one carefully analyzes Young Goodman Brown's character the main concept that comes to mind is that the character appears to be an implied part of his religion-pure. The reader should keep in mind that purity is often associated with innocence.
The sense of purity within the character of Young Goodman Brown will later appear to be awkward. In the beginning of the story when he meets the Devil in the forest the narrator states that the Devil "was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, (Hawthorne, 337)." Through this statement the reader now knows that Young Goodman Brown is not young as his name implies, he is actually a very old man who is just now reaching the stage in life where one realizes that the world is not surfeited with just purity alone, it also contains evil. When the reader first begins the story it is automatically assumed that his title Young Goodman Brown means that he is literally young, which further implies innocence, immaturity, and naive ness. During the Puritan times the title Goodman was equivalent to the present day title of mister. Hawthorne presents a character that has the assumed name of a child, Young Goodman Brown, and the demeanor and thought process of a child; however, the reader is to discover later that he is an adult with the mindset of a child. When the reader discovers that the character is not a child, the fact that Brown was taking a journey into what he believed was initiation to manhood during the beginning of the story now makes the situation very awkward.
Young Goodman Brown maintains the mindset of a child; he is na " ive to the fact that the world and people are not pure in and innocent even though they take part in the pure puritan religion. Brown goes so far as to say that "We (the puritans and Browns of the past) have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyr... (Hawthorne, 337)." Brown, including many others in today's society, are na " ive in reference to the puritan religion because they do not understand that as long as he insists on only one true interpretation of faith, his faith is false. The story's theme of corrupted innocence is not only made clear through the character of Young Goodman Brown, but also through a literary technique known as allegory. Hawthorne uses allegory to emphasize the theme of corrupted innocence because an allegory is a visible symbol representing an abstract idea. An example of Hawthorne using this style of writing to express Brown's innocence and failure to mature is through Brown's wife Faith.
Faith's name is allegorical because his relationship with his wife Faith and his relationship with his religious faith are parallel. The pink ribbon that faith wears is also an allegory. The pink ribbon represents Faith's (the person faith and the religious faith) true color. The pink ribbon is a mixture of the two colors red and white, and it is through the combination of these two colors that the world is made up. The color red represents the devil and the evil within the world. The white represents God and the purity and goodness within the world.
Because the world does not contain only good or only evil and because faith (the person and the religious idea) is not made up of only good or only evil she wears a pink ribbon because it represents a mixture of both good and evil within the world and people. Through Hawthorne's literary technique of allegory, and his clear representation of the theme corrupted innocence through the character of Young Goodman Brown, the reader now understands that both the young and the old can be innocent to the fact that religion and the world is never completely good, no matter how pure the religion may seem to be. Works Cited Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 5 th ed.
Eds. Laurie G. Kirsznev and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Thomson, 2004.