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Faith and Religion in “Young Goodman Brown” Anonymous


Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” obstacles presumptions of religion and provides another view. His view of faith is cynical, as his titular lead character de-evolves into a disillusioned old guy whose “passing away hour was gloom” (12 ). Melissa McFarland Pennell highlights the main problem of this story when she observes,” [Brown] perceives the real, sees what his imagination causes, […] accepts what the devil insinuates [and] never ever questions the credibility of the scenes and sounds that he discovers, but he does start to doubt paradise” (35 ). Brown’s uncurious nature towards the occasions pertaining to faith that are occurring around him leads us to question the significance of faith and faith. Alfred Kazin notes that “the belief in redemption through the extraordinary, complex and eventually inexplicable will of God that kept the Puritans snug and safe [was] something Hawthorne could not bring himself to believe” (29 ). Though numerous critics have commented that Hawthorne did not concur with the Puritanical method of Christianity, I am not suggesting that his attack on religion here is an act of disobedience; rather, Brown’s muteness challenges the readers to question our presumption of faith, and this lack of curiosity in Brown therefore highlights the presumptions made about religion. Eventually, Hawthorne distinguishes between faith and religion, and proposes that there are distinctions despite being similar, hence inviting us to examine our attitudes towards religion.

One critique of religious beliefs that Hawthorne provides is that religion hampers conjugal bliss, which is the trademark of a pleased marriage. James C. Keil reveals that the building and constructions of female identity by the Puritans “were based upon Eve’s seduction by the devil and her deception of Adam in the Garden of Eden” (40 ). This recommends that females were “sexually predatory”( 39 ), an attribute of Faith that Hawthorne discreetly meant in the opening of the story with the repeated thrusting motions of her head and the images of her “pink ribbons” (1 ). The pink ribbons are a symbol of her womanhood, and the repetitive persistence of them suggests that she is participating in coquetry. Keil also points out that “Puritans feared that love of spouse might rival and hinder love of Christ.” When Brown was about to trigger on his journey, Faith urged that he “tarry with me this night,” “when her lips were close to his ear” (1 ). As expected of Brown based upon this religious gendering, he defended himself by questioning her faith in him instead. This fundamental conflict between the constructions of female identity and religious obligation becomes a barrier in their marital relationship, such that when Brown returns from his journey, he “passed on [Faith] without a welcoming” (11 ).

The sexual images in the opening paragraph where Brown “put his head back” while Faith “thrust her own lovely head into the street”( 1 ), followed by Brown rejecting Faith’s advances when he rejects her demand to delay his journey mirrors an unfulfilling act of penetrative sex. Faith’s sexual aggressiveness compounded by Brown’s passivity prompts Keil to even more suggest that Brown might have been a virgin when he got in the forest, and in light of the Puritan ideal, it may be rightly so. Brown’s trip into the forest signals a shift in the story’s focus from his conscious to his subconscious that is represented by the darkness of the forest. To Keil, the forest represents ethical wilderness and turmoil for the Puritans. He supports his claim as he asserts that this presumption would make “Brown’s focus on stains and bloodspots covering the earth that a lot more brilliant and substantial” (footnotes, 53). Due to the contradictory constructions of gender, his virginal state hence indicates that religion is a repressive force that disallows him from seeking sexual satisfaction.

Reginald Cook supplies another interpretation of this forest scene when he proposes that “the descent is represented from daytime into night, from awareness to subconsciousness, from truth to impression, from physical to psychical, from light to dark” (478 ). What Brown finds in the forest leads him to exclaim that “My Faith is gone!” (7 ). He discovers that “wicked is the nature of mankind” (478 ). This is a pivotal moment in the story as it represents his ready acceptance of the loss of his beliefs that he matured with. When he returned to his village after his discovery, he lost faith in his neighborhood and consequently distanced himself from them. D. M. McKeithan puts forth the analysis that Brown was committing a sin that was not clearly pointed out by Hawthorne, however “he believed in his capability to enjoy the sin– whatever it was– once again and then withstand all future temptations” (94 ). This would hence highlight the hypocrisy of Brown, for he is allowed to delight in sin while judging the rest of his neighborhood.

Though McKeithan discusses that Brown saw evil in everybody due to the fact that “his sin led him to consider all other people wicked [and] came ultimately to evaluate others by himself” (96 ), I am more likely to concur with Cook’s interpretation that “the symbolic forest of the night is, in effect, young Goodman Brown’s own soul where belief becomes doubt, faith into apprehension” (479 ), since that would more effectively account for his stoic belief that his ancestors “are an individuals of prayer, and greats to boot, and abide no such wickedness” (3 ). Cook’s interpretation would likewise make Brown’s final isolation more poignant, and his initial urgency at going back to Faith more genuine, if he originally believed that there was sincere piety in his neighborhood. Regardless, Brown’s ready refutation of his religious beliefs makes us question our treatment of faith: What is the basis of a faith? In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne appears to be suggesting that if one can renounce his faith so easily and without question, then perhaps faith is approximate and unneeded.

However, we need to keep in mind that faith and religion seems to be two different concerns. Faith becomes allegorical in this story as it is the name of Brown’s better half in addition to an abstract noun. Keil highlights that “in Hawthorne’s life time ladies, believed to be ethically superior to men, were turned over with preparing kids for Christian redemption” (40 ). This therefore alludes to the idea that Faith/faith restores. Faith, on the other hand, though ideologically linked, is made different in this story. Here, religion describes the performative acts of faith. This is what Hawthorne appears to reject. He refused to take part when the congregation were “singing a holy psalm” (11 ), and turned away when the family “knelt down at prayer” (12 ). Yet, Hawthorne does not dismiss faith since” [shrinking] from the bosom of Faith” may result in a” [gloomy] dying hour” (12 ). Hawthorne’s narration eventually produces an emulsion of faith and religion, and he takes care to explain that the outside efficiency of faith remains in truth, hypocritical.

Through Brown’s unquestioning approval of the devil’s insinuation, Hawthorne reveals his critique of religion. By symbolically stimulating the image of Faith’s sexuality, her pink ribbons, he reveals Brown’s conflict in between the ideologies of marital relationship and faith. He critiques the contradictory gendering of the Puritans and recommends that it has the potential to make one impotent. Brown’s all set acceptance to refute his lifelong religions further questions the basis of religious beliefs. However, as he shatters the misconception of religious beliefs, he bewares to show that whilst faith is an intrinsic part of faith, it is distinct and separate, and eventually, he acknowledges that faith has the prospective to restore.

Works Pointed out

Cook, Reginald. ‘The Forest of Goodman Brown’s Night: A Checking out of Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”‘ The New England Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3. (Sep., 1970), pp. 473-481.

: Vintage Books. Pp. 24-39. Keil, James C.’Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”: Early Nineteenth-Century and

Puritan Constructions of Gender.’The New England Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 1.(Mar., 1996 ), pp. 33-55. McKeithan, D. M.’Hawthorne’s”Young Goodman Brown”: An Analysis.’Modern Language Notes, Vol. 67, No. 2.(

Feb., 1952), pp. 93-96.

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