Nathaniel Hawthornes Young Goodman Brown captivates the reader through a glimpse of the Puritan church. The story also shows the struggle of good versus evil in the main character Goodman Brown. The role of the Puritan church is crucial in shaping Goodman Browns personality and helping the reader understand why he was reluctant to continue his journey. Puritanism, movement arising within the Church of England in the latter part of the 16th century that sought to purify or reform, that church and establish a middle course between Roman Catholicism and the ideas of the Protestant reformers (Puritanism 1).
The term Puritanism was referred to as an insult that was attached by traditional Anglicans who wished to purify the Church of England. The Encarta Online Encyclopedia states that the term Puritanism has often been used as a term of abuse in a way that does little justice to historical Puritanism. For instance, when a rigid moralism, the condemnation of innocent pleasure, or a religious narrowness is characterized as Puritanical (1). Puritanism was founded on the principles and beliefs of John Calvin, and one of the major ideals they focused on was the doctrine of predestination.
Calvin believed that the grace of God was the ticket into Heaven and that his grace could not be earned. Gods grace was bestowed upon a select few regardless of what they did to earn it. This doctrine stated that God determines a mans destiny, whether it be redemption or condemnation, regardless of any worth or merit on the persons part. Great pains were taken to warn members and especially children of the dangers of the world. Religiously motivated, they were exceptional in their time for their interest in the education of their children. Reading the Bible was necessary to giving the righteous life.
Three diversions were banned in the Puritan society: drama, religious music, and erotic poetry. They believed that these led to immorality. Music in worship created a dreamy state which was not conducive to listening to God. Each Puritan congregation was to be individually responsible to God, as was each person. The New Testament was their model, and their devotion so great that permeated their entire society. People opposing theological views were asked to leave the community or to be converted. Their interpretation of scriptures was a harsh one. They emphasized a redemptive pity. In principle, they emphasized conversion and not repression.
Conversion was a rejection of the worldliness of society combined with a strict adherence to Biblical principles. Puritans believed that a strong faith in Jesus and active participation in the sacraments could not alone hinder ones salvation. No one can choose salvation, for it is the privilege of God alone (Campbell 1). The Puritan society centered around the idea of covenants. The concept of the contract between God and a select few was central to Puritan theology and social relationships (2). Campbell explains that the Covenant of Works held that God promised Adam and his progeny eternal life if they obeyed moral law.
After Adam broke this covenant, God made a new Covenant of Grace with Abraham(2). The Covenant of Grace requires active faith and, as such, it softens the doctrine of predestination. Campbell further explains that, Although God still chooses the elect, the relationship becomes one of contract in which punishment for sins is a judicially proper response to disobedience(2). The Covenant of Redemption goes hand and hand with the Covenant of Grace. It states that Christ of his own free will chose to sacrifice his life for the common man.
Then God was committed to carrying out the Covenant of Grace. The doctrine of predestination kept all Puritans constantly working to do good in this life to be chosen for the next eternal life. God had already chosen who would be in Heaven or Hell, and each believer had no way of knowing which group one was in. Those who were wealthy were obviously blessed by God and were in good standing with Him. Any deviation from the normal way of Puritan life met with strict disapproval and discipline. Since the church elders were also political leaders, any church infraction was also a social one.
There was no margin for error. Along with the belief of predestination, Puritans believed in election. The basic idea of election is that God chooses who is saved and who is damned (Feldmeth 1). There is no reward for those Puritans who had been good and were not chosen. As a test of election, many churches started to require applications for church membership in the form of autobiographical conversion narratives. The church placed so much importance on the conversion and evidence for election to Heaven but granted neither self-trust nor self-worth to its congregation.
Puritanism can be seen as an unending cycle of misery in which a man is most depraved and most unworthy, exactly how Young Goodman Brown came to see himself. The God worshipped by the Puritans was not a forgiving God, and definitely not a happy God. The Puritans feared him and tried enthusiastically to make themselves worthy in His eyes. They insisted that they, as Gods special elect, had the duty to conduct affairs carrying out His will according to the Bible. Despite the fact that the chosen few had already been elected, the Puritans still strived to be good people.
The Puritan life was one of plainness, strict prayer, and physical and social submission to the duty of the Lord. The Puritans valued themselves above others, because they felt they were representatives of God. They saw themselves as compassionate, forgiving people, who believed that no matter what the crime, a man could do the right thing in the eyes of God as long as he or she admitted their wrong. The Puritan political life branched off the church. The Puritan belief that communities were formed by covenants produced Americas first town meeting (Puritanism 2). All church members had the right to speak and vote at the town meetings.
In the political arena there was a blurring of political and religious authority, which resulted in a theocracy, not a democracy. The Halfway Covenant was developed to allow unbaptized members (children of Puritans), to vote and thus preserve the influence of Puritan authorities. In the setting of the story, Goodman Brown would fall under the Halfway Covenant. The Covenant allowed children of church members to be baptized and become part of the congregation, thus increasing membership. But in order to be a full member and receive communion the conversion experience was necessary.
The Puritans did not tolerate any teachings outside of their own. They believed error must be opposed and driven out. Richard Saltonstall wrote a letter to his friends, John Cotton and John Wilson. In the letter he tells the gentleman how upset he is with the reports of tyranny and persecution of non-Puritans. He goes on to discuss how they forced non-Puritans to come to the worship services and town meetings. Then they would be fined, whipped, or imprisoned. Saltonstall goes on to write, These rigid ways have laid you very low in the hearts of the saints (Dudley, ONeill 113).
John Cotton wrote a reply to the letter Saltonstall wrote. In the letter he begins by saying that he loves his friend. Next, he goes on to say that the reports of tyranny and persecutions were not done by him, but by others. Farther down in the letter Cotton states that all of the people who were persecuted basically deserved it. Another example of intolerance was the persecution and expulsion of Anne Hutchinson. Her criticism of the Massachusetts Puritans for what she considered to be their narrowly legalistic concept of morality and her protests against the authority of the clergy were at first widely supported by many.
She was known to challenge the leaders of the Puritan church. She criticized ministers for not preaching the Covenant of Grace (Feldmeth 1). The story Young Goodman Brown was set in the village of Salem. There were many citizens that were highly thought of. One character that Goodman Brown respects is Goody Cloyse. She is well known in the village and had taught Goodman Brown and many others their catechism. The Catechism is basically the teachings of the Puritan religion. Goody Cloyse was Goodman Browns moral and spiritual advisor. When Goodman Brown was on his journey, he ran into Goody Cloyse.
Goodman Brown says to the traveler that he is surprised to see the old Christian woman in the forest. He goes on to say that he needs to go deeper into the forest because she might question him on why he is in the forest (McMahan, Day, Funk 166). The conversation that the old Christian woman has with the traveler is not one that Goodman Brown is used to hearing. She is talking about some type of service going on in the forest. So as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting and no horse to ride on I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell me there is a nice young man to be taken into communion tonight.
But your good worship will lend me your arm, and we shall be there in a twinkling (167). This encounter throws Goodman Brown for a loop. Then Goodman Brown makes a statement to the traveler that he has made up his mind to not take another step in the forest. He goes on to say that she is an old wretched woman who wants to choose the devil, when he thought she was going to Heaven. He wonders, Is that any reason for why I should quit my Faith, and go after her? (167) Faith plays a big role in the story. She was a very pretty woman. She represented everything a young Puritan woman is supposed to be.
Faith is very pure and not tainted by the evils of the world. At the start of the story she asked her husband to put off his journey until morning and sleep in his bed at home (164). She also tells Goodman Brown about the dreams she has been having, and he basically tells her that she has nothing to worry about. While Goodman Brown is out on his journey into the forest he thinks of how he will never leave his wifes side for an errand like this again. When Goodman Brown reached the destination, he heard lots of voices, but only one stuck out. He heard the voice of his wife Faith.
At that point he was overwhelmed with grief. He never would, have believed that she would take such a journey. Along with Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin and the village minister are Goodman Browns moral and spiritual advisors. These two men represent everything that Goodman Brown wanted to be. At one point of the journey, Goodman Brown thinks about how he would meet the minister on his morning walk and how he would not be able to look Deacon Gookin in the eye (167). While on his journey he not only sees Goody Cloyse, but he also hears the voices of the minister and the deacon.
After he heard the voices, he broke down and could not believe that the two men he held up on a pedstal were out in the forest. This caused him to began to doubt if there was a Heaven. Goodman Browns struggle between the evil temptations, the devil, and the proper church abiding life, is a struggle he does not think he can face. He reiterates his false confidence to himself repeatedly. Goodman Brown almost immediately declares that he kept his meeting with the Devil and no longer wishes to continue on his errand with the Devil.
He says that he comes from a “race of honest men and good Christians” and that his father had never gone on this errand and nor will he. The Devil is quick to point out however that he was with his father and grandfather when they were flogging a woman or burning an Indian village, respectively. These acts are ironic in that they were bad deeds done in the name of good, and it shows that he does not come from “good Christians. ” When Goodman Brown’s first excuse not to carry on with the errand proves to be unconvincing, he says he can’t go because of his wife, “Faith”.
And because of her, he cannot carry out the errand any further. At this point the Devil agrees with him and tells him to turn back to prevent that “Faith should come to any harm” like the old woman in front of them on the path. Ironically, Goodman Brown’s faith is harmed because the woman on the path is the woman who “taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser (167). The Devil and the woman talk and afterward, Brown continues to walk on with the Devil in the disbelief of what he had just witnessed.
Ironically, he blames the woman for consorting with the Devil but his own pride stops him from realizing that his faults are the same as the woman’s. Goodman Brown knows what he must do but dreads the deed. Upon entering the forest he is suspicious of every rock and tree, thinking something evil will jump out at him. When he finally does meet someone on the trail, who appears to be of evil origin, he feels confident that he can refuse any temptations. When the traveler questions Goodman Brown on why he is late, he states that it was Faith that held him back (165).
This statement has a double meaning because his wife physically prevented him from being on time for his meeting with the devil, but his faith in God psychologically delayed his meeting with the devil. This evil person makes several advances, and Goodman Brown refuses. His resistance makes Goodman Brown feel strong until he sees his childhood catechism teacher and see her turned to evil. This act deters his confidence to a great degree. He continues down the trail look for hope in the heavens, but only hears voices.
As a result of the journey, Goodman Brown loses faith in himself, his wife, and the community he resides in. When Goodman Brown made it to the destination in the forest he seems to have lost faith in everything he has ever been taught to believe in. The following morning he finds himself in the forest and wonders what happened the pervious night. He believes what he remembered and trusts no one in the village, not even his wife. Hawthorne shows that the consequence for the mistrust and self-doubt that is inherent in Puritan education and doctrine does not create faith and peace.
It creates further confusion. A system in which individuals cannot trust themselves, their neighbors, their instructors, even their minister cannot create an atmosphere where faith exists. Just as Goodman Brown could not trust the shadow and figures he saw hidden in the forest, he could not trust his own desires. Those desires had to be purged through his journey into the forest. That corrupt heart was torn open after Goodman Brown heard Faiths voice and saw her pink ribbon. He screamed, My Faith is gone. There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name.
Come Devil; for to thee is this world given (McMahan, Day, Funk 169). This Revelation is often the result of a Puritan confronting his repressed evil. When Goodman Brown hears this he becomes weak and falls to the ground. He “begins to doubt whether there really was a Heaven above him” and this is a key point when Goodman Brown’s faith begins to wain. Goodman Brown in panic declares that “With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil! ” Again, Brown makes a promise to keep his faith unto God.
Then “a black mass of cloud” goes in between Brown and the sky as if to block his prayer from heaven. Brown then hears what he believed to be voices that he has heard before in the community. Once Goodman Brown begins to doubt whether this is really what he had heard or not, the sound comes to him again and this time it is followed by “one voice, of a young woman”. Goodman believes this is Faith and he yells out her name only to be mimicked by the echoes of the forest, as if his calls to Faith were falling on deaf ears.
A pink ribbon flies through the air and Goodman grabs it. At this moment, he has lost all faith in the world and declares that there is “no good on earth. ” Young Goodman Brown in this scene is easily manipulated simply by the power of suggestion. The suggestion that the woman in question is his Faith, and because of this, he easily loses his faith. Goodman Brown then loses all of his inhibitions and begins to laugh insanely. He takes hold of the staff which causes him to seem to “fly along the forest-path”.
This image is similar to Adam and Eve being led out of the Garden of Eden. Goodman Brown is out of his utopia by the Devil’s snakelike staff. Hawthorne at this point remarks about “the instinct that guides mortal man to evil”. This is a direct statement from the author that he believes that man’s natural inclination is to lean more to evil than good. Goodman Brown had at this point lost his faith in God; therefore, there was nothing restraining his instincts from moving towards evil because he had been lead out from his utopian image of society.
At this point, Goodman Brown goes mad and challenges evil. He feels that he will be the downfall of evil and that he is strong enough to overcome it all. This is another demonstration of Brown’s excessive pride and arrogance. He believes that he is better than everyone else in that he alone can destroy evil. Brown then comes upon the ceremony which is setup like a perverted Puritan temple. The altar was a rock in the middle of the congregation and there were four trees surrounding the congregation with their tops ablaze, like candles.
A red light rose and fell over the congregation which cast a veil of evil over the congregation over the devil worshippers. As a Puritan, Goodman Brown sought a true conversion experience. Whether or not the meeting in the forest existed as reality or a dream does not matter. The point is that Puritanism required their followers to doubt themselves and their community so much that a reality in which one could achieve grace did not exist. Hawthorne describe this mindset in the story of Goodman Brown. Hawthorne loaded the story with tones of references to the Puritan religion.