Close Reading American Literature

The Insatiable Interest in Sin

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What young goodman Brown’s journey may have looked like…. eerie.

“Well; she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven.” (387)

“Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a short story that is heavily influenced by Puritan culture and history, especially the Salem Witch Trials. The story deals a lot with the theological concept of “original sin” and dabbling in sin as well as its effect on the body and the society in which it inhabits. Hawthorne implies that people have an insatiable interest in sin which drives their actions. While people may innocently engage in these types of journeys every day, the point is not to condemn but to make the reader aware that while we point a finger we should be pointing back at ourselves as well.

There are many symbols that move the piece forward and compel the reader to insert themselves into the story and reflect upon their own actions. One major symbol is found within the summative character of young goodman Brown’s wife, Faith. Hawthorne characterized Faith and used her name throughout the text in such clever ways that it is hardly clear when Hawthorne is referring to the wife or to the noun/verb faith. The quote exemplified above shows how Hawthorne uses Faith as a personification for the noun/verb “faith”.

Young goodman Brown goes on a journey in the “wilderness” and strolls with the devil. Brown acknowledges the beauty and value of his Faith (faith) but feels to continue on in his journey, rationalizing his decision with his intent to “cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven” after the night was done. There seems to be very little malice, just curiosity, that drives his journey into the woods but the fact remains that he could not help himself. That much was clear for young goodman Brown.

Some interesting articles that have influenced my thinking about Young Goodman Brown:

  1. The Forest of Goodman Brown’s Night: A Reading of Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’ by Reginald Cook
  2. “The Minister’s Black Veil”: Symbol, Meaning, and the Context of Hawthorne’s Art by W. B. Carnochan
  3. Explaining Mental Illness: Theology and Pathology in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Short Fiction by Eric Goldman
  4. Sensational Designs by Jane Tompkins
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4 thoughts on “The Insatiable Interest in Sin

  1. This sounds like a good start to your final paper! I was intrigued by your title; the alliteration is a nice touch, it really draws the reader in. As for your topic, I like where you are going with it. Honestly, I was initially bored and uninterested in “Young Goodman Brown” when we first read it for class, and the only parts that really held my attention were in reference to Faith. But your analysis has increased my interest in the short story! I think analyzing the connections between religion and gender would be useful for your paper, especially in regards to the ending of the story. Young Goodman Brown is very hypocritical of his wife participating in the devilish meeting, when he himself is there and participating! It is interesting how he puts her on a pedestal as an angel, but then falls so quickly from grace after his night in the woods. What is the significance of this? Are there other instances of hypocrisy with gender/religion in other texts we’ve read?

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    1. Excellent and useful feedback! I think these suggestions could also help to connect the paragraphs and ideas in the blog post. Work on transitions between ideas/paragraphs and smoothing those out in the final paper.

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  2. You gave really good analysis for Young GoodMan Brown, especially with the comparisons of Faith! I am interested to see where your paper develops in the sense of your thesis. I’m not actually sure how the “sin” that you say Brown was drawn to act out relates to the faith and wilderness you write about. Maybe if you clarified why its sinful to go out in the wilderness in Puritan terms, it would be easier to understand. Overall, a very compelling piece!

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  3. Make sure that in the introduction (and throughout the paper) you avoid dabbling too much into the personal. Discuss the audience in terms of Hawthorne’s 19th Century audience and how he was read in his time. In other words, try to avoid conflating his intended audience and us, his readers today.

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