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Pessimistic view on Religion in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”


Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” obstacles presumptions of faith and uses another view. His view of religion is downhearted, as his titular protagonist de-evolves into a disillusioned old male whose “dying hour was gloom” (12 ). Melissa McFarland Pennell highlights the central problem of this story when she observes,” [Brown] perceives the real, sees what his creativity causes, […] accepts what the devil insinuates [and] never questions the validity of the scenes and sounds that he finds, however he does start to doubt heaven” (35 ). Brown’s uncurious nature towards the events pertaining to faith that are happening around him leads us to question the significance of faith and faith. Alfred Kazin keeps in mind that “the belief in redemption through the remarkable, complex and eventually inexplicable will of God that kept the Puritans snug and safe [was] something Hawthorne could not bring himself to think” (29 ). Though different critics have actually commented that Hawthorne did not agree with the Puritanical technique of Christianity, I am not recommending that his attack on religion here is an act of disobedience; rather, Brown’s muteness challenges the readers to question our preconceived notion of religious beliefs, and this lack of interest in Brown therefore highlights the assumptions made about religious beliefs. Eventually, Hawthorne distinguishes between faith and religious beliefs, and proposes that there are distinctions in spite of being comparable, therefore inviting us to review our attitudes towards religion.

One critique of faith that Hawthorne provides is that religion hampers conjugal happiness, which is the trademark of a pleased marital relationship. James C. Keil exposes that the constructions of female identity by the Puritans “were based on Eve’s seduction by the devil and her deception of Adam in the Garden of Eden” (40 ). This suggests that women were “sexually predatory”( 39 ), an attribute of Faith that Hawthorne subtly hinted at 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 sign of her femininity, and the recurring persistence of them suggests that she is engaging in coquetry. Keil also mentions that “Puritans feared that love of spouse could measure up to and interfere with love of Christ.” When Brown will set off on his journey, Faith implored 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 safeguarded himself by questioning her faith in him instead. This inherent conflict in between the constructions of female identity and religious obligation becomes an obstacle in their marital relationship, such that when Brown returns from his trip, he “handed down [Faith] without a greeting” (11 ).

The sexual imagery in the opening paragraph where Brown “put his head back” while Faith “thrust her own pretty head into the street”( 1 ), followed by Brown rejecting Faith’s advances when he declines 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 may have been a virgin when he entered the forest, and because of the Puritan suitable, it may be appropriately so. Brown’s journey into the forest indicates 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 signifies 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 much more vibrant and significant” (footnotes, 53). Due to the inconsistent constructions of gender, his virginal state thus implies that faith is a repressive force that prohibits him from looking for sexual satisfaction.

Reginald Cook supplies another interpretation of this forest scene when he proposes that “the descent is represented from daytime into night, from consciousness to subconsciousness, from reality to illusion, 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 finds that “evil is the nature of mankind” (478 ). This is a turning point in the story as it symbolizes his all set approval of the loss of his beliefs that he grew up with. When he returned to his village after his discovery, he despaired in his neighborhood and consequently distanced himself from them. D. M. McKeithan puts forth the analysis that Brown was dedicating a sin that was not explicitly mentioned by Hawthorne, but “he believed in his ability to indulge in the sin– whatever it was– once more and after that withstand all future temptations” (94 ). This would therefore highlight the hypocrisy of Brown, for he is enabled to delight in sin while evaluating the rest of his neighborhood.

Though McKeithan explains that Brown saw evil in everybody due to the fact that “his sin led him to think about all other people sinful [and] came ultimately to judge others by himself” (96 ), I am more likely to concur with Cook’s interpretation that “the symbolic forest of the night is, in result, young Goodman Brown’s own soul where belief becomes doubt, faith into uncertainty” (479 ), since that would better account for his stoic belief that his forefathers “are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness” (3 ). Cook’s interpretation would likewise make Brown’s last seclusion more poignant, and his initial seriousness at returning to Faith more genuine, if he initially believed that there was sincere piety in his community. Regardless, Brown’s prepared refutation of his religion makes us question our treatment of religious beliefs: What is the basis of a faith? In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne seems to be suggesting that if one can renounce his religion so easily and without concern, then perhaps religious beliefs is approximate and unnecessary.

Nevertheless, we have to note that faith and religious beliefs appears to be 2 different concerns. Faith becomes allegorical in this story as it is the name of Brown’s partner in addition to an abstract noun. Keil highlights that “in Hawthorne’s life time ladies, believed to be morally exceptional to men, were delegated with preparing kids for Christian redemption” (40 ). This therefore alludes to the concept that Faith/faith salvages. Religious beliefs, on the other hand, though ideologically connected, is made different in this story. Here, religion refers to the performative acts of faith. This is what Hawthorne appears to decline. He declined to take part when the parish 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” might cause a” [gloomy] dying hour” (12 ). Hawthorne’s narration eventually develops an emulsion of faith and religious beliefs, and he bewares to point out that the outward performance of faith remains in reality, hypocritical.

Through Brown’s unquestioning acceptance of the devil’s insinuation, Hawthorne reveals his review of faith. By symbolically stimulating the image of Faith’s sexuality, her pink ribbons, he reveals Brown’s dispute between the ideologies of marital relationship and religious beliefs. He critiques the inconsistent gendering of the Puritans and suggests that it has the possible to make one impotent. Brown’s prepared approval to refute his long-lasting religions further questions the basis of faith. Nonetheless, as he shatters the myth of religion, 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 potential to restore.

Functions Cited

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 Interpretation.’Modern Language Notes, Vol. 67, No. 2.(

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

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