It is quite obvious that Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" is a fable. Hawthorne anticipated it as such and still gave the tale the slogan "a parable." "The Minister's Black Veil," nevertheless, was not Hawthorne's single parable. Hawthorne frequently used symbols and metaphorical language to provide additional connotation to the factual interpretations of his work. His Puritan lineage also contributed greatly of Hawthorne's work. Rather than being in agreement with Puritanism conversely, Hawthorne would condemn it through the symbols and themes in his writings and parables. Quite a number of these symbols and themes reoccur in Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and The Scarlet Letter. One particularly noticeable theme in Hawthorne's work is that of secret sin. In the "Young Goodman Brown", this theme is apparent when youthful Mr. Brown dreams that he is led by the devil to a witching festivity. There he sees all of the praiseworthy and religious members of the public, as well as his minister and the woman who trained him his catechisms, communing with the prince of darkness. Upon awakening, the deceitful personality of his once admired neighbors and the comprehension of his personal secret sin causes him to become appallingly disenchanted.
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Nevertheless, two of the major themes in The Scarlet Letter are visible in the other story. The first is the dishonesty of the clergy. In The Scarlet Letter, Reverend Dimmesdale is an excellent pastor. He is not, conversely, the Puritan model of what a pastor should be. He is human, and gives in to human wishes when he sleeps with Hester Prynne. Both Reverend Hooper and the minister in "Young Goodman Brown" are fraudulent too. Reverend Hooper's sins with the late young lady are hinted at, but still vague.
The minister in "Young Goodman Brown" is a much enhanced illustration of crooked clergy. He is in attendance at the witches' gathering just one day prior to the day he would go before the worshippers of his church and sermon the word of God. This is undoubtedly another reflection of Hawthorne's belief in the insincerity of Puritanism. Another constituent frequent in these two works by Hawthorne is the way that sin ostracizes one from humanity. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester's is identified with a representation of her sin, so her division from society is obligatory as a form of retribution. She is not physically detached from society, but she will by no means again be proficient to play an equal responsibility in society that she once played. Everyone else, neglecting to look inside their heart at their own sin, condemns Hester for her disloyalty and turns their back to her. In "Young Goodman Brown," Mr. Brown willingly chooses to cut himself off from "human love and company". Nonetheless, while Hester's neighbors turn their back on her because of her adultery, Mr. Brown ostracizes himself because he is disgusted by the insincerity that he knows is there in the lives of the people around him.
The messages diverge somewhat in each of these stories, but they are the same in the attitude that they show towards Puritanism. What Hawthorne desires the reader to depict from the stories is not so much that infidelity is awful or that undisclosed sin is dreadful. The message is actually that the Puritan response to sin is incorrect. Hawthorne would have said that people should examine the personal sin in their own life prior to going around accusing other people for their sin that became public. Prior to reproving someone else for being sinful, one should keep in mind that you are sinful as well.
Images in Hawthorne's "The Young Goodman Brown"
Salem village: It was "the center of the witchcraft delusion, in the witching times of 1692, and it shows the populace of Salem Village, those chief in authority as well as obscure young citizens like Brown, enticed by fiendish shapes into the frightful solitude of superstitious fear"
The pink ribbons of her cap: "The ribbons are in fact an explicit link between two conceptions of Faith, connecting sweet little Faith of the village with the woman who stands at the Devil's baptismal font. We can legitimately disagree about the meaning of this duality; the fact remains that in proposing that Faith's significance is the opposite of what he had led the reader to expect, Hawthorne violates the fixed conceptual meaning associated with his character"
Goodman Brown: "is Everyman. The bargain he has struck with Satan is the universal one . . . . Initially, he is a naive and immature young man who fails to understand the gravity of the step he has taken, which is succeeded by a presumably adult determination to resist his own evil impulses" (117)
Fellow-traveler: "a likeness or part or ancestor of Brown himself" (17). "This man is, of course, the Devil, who seeks to lure the still reluctant Goodman to a witch-meeting. In the process he progressively undermines the young man's faith in the institutions and the men whom he has heretofore revered"
My catechism: "Although the treatment of innate depravity in the catechism is relatively brief, this was only one source of information about human corruption and its implications available to Puritan youth.
The Scarlet Letter
Sin, Knowledge, and the Human Condition
In the scarlet letter, there is the theme of Sin, Knowledge, and the Human Condition. Sin and information are linked in the Judeo-Christian tradition. The experience of Hester and Dimmesdale recalls the story of Adam and Eve because, in both cases, sin results in expulsion and suffering. But it also results in knowledge-specifically, in knowledge of what it means to be human. For Hester, the scarlet letter functions as "her passport into regions where other women dared not tread," leading her to "speculate" about her society and herself more "boldly" than anyone else in New England.
The Nature of Evil
The characters in the novel recurrently debate the uniqueness of the "Black Man," the personification of evil. Over the line of the novel, the "Black Man" is linked with Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and Mistress Hibbins, and little Pearl is thought by some to be the Devil's child. The characters also attempt to root out the causes of evil: Somehow, Chillingworth's selfishness in marrying Hester force her to the "evil" she committed in Dimmesdale's arms, while Hester and Dimmesdale's deeds are responsible for Chillingworth's conversion into a malicious being. This bewilderment over the nature and causes of evil reveals the problems with the Puritan conception of sin. The book argues that true evil arises from the close relationship between hate and love. As the narrator points out in the novel's concluding chapter, both emotions depend upon "a high degree of intimacy and heart-knowledge; each renders one individual dependent upon another." Evil is not found in Hester and Dimmesdale's lovemaking, or even in the cruel lack of knowledge of the Puritan fathers.
Identity and Society
After Hester is openly humiliated and obligated by the people of Boston to put on a badge of disgrace, her reluctance to depart the town may seem mystifying. She is not physically imprisoned, and leaving the Massachusetts Bay Colony would allow her to remove the scarlet letter and resume a normal life. Astonishingly, Hester reacts with disappointment when Chillingworth tells her that the towns fathers are thinking of letting her get rid of the letter. Hester's behavior is premised on her desire to determine her own identity rather than to allow others to determine it for her.
The Scarlet Letter
The scarlet letter is meant to be a symbol of shame, but instead it becomes a powerful symbol of identity to Hester. The letter's meaning shifts as time passes. Originally intended to mark Hester as an adulterer, the "A" eventually comes to stand for "Able." Finally, it becomes indeterminate: the Native Americans who come to watch the Election Day pageant think it marks her as a person of importance and status. Like Pearl, the letter functions as a physical reminder of Hester's affair with Dimmesdale. But, compared with a human child, the letter seems insignificant, and thus helps to point out the ultimate meaninglessness of the community's system of judgment and punishment.
As Dimmesdale stands on the scaffold with Hester and Pearl in Chapter 12, a meteor traces out an "A" in the night sky. To Dimmesdale, the meteor implies that he should wear a mark of shame just as Hester does. The Puritans commonly looked to symbols to confirm divine sentiments. The incident with the meteor obviously highlights and exemplifies two different uses of symbols: Puritan and literary.
Although Pearl is a complex character, her primary function within the novel is as a symbol. Pearl is a sort of living version of her mother's scarlet letter. She is the physical consequence of sexual sin and the indicator of a transgression. Yet, even as a reminder of Hester's "sin," Pearl is more than a mere punishment to her mother: she is also a blessing. She represents not only "sin" but also the vital spirit and passion that engendered that sin. Thus, Pearl's existence gives her mother reason to live, bolstering her spirits when she is tempted to give up. It is only after Dimmesdale is revealed to be Pearl's father that Pearl can become fully "human." Until then, she functions in a symbolic capacity as the reminder of an unsolved mystery.
The Rosebush Next to the Prison Door
The storyteller chooses to commence his story with the representation of the rosebush beside the prison door. The rosebush symbolizes the capability of nature to endure and outlast man's activities. Yet, paradoxically, it also symbolizes the futility of symbolic interpretation: the narrator mentions various significances that the rosebush might have, never affirming or denying them, never privileging one over the others.
The names in this novel often seem to plead to be interpreted metaphorically. Chillingworth is cold and inhuman and thus brings a "chill" to Hester's and Dimmesdale's lives. "Prynne" rhymes with "sin," while "Dimmesdale" suggests "dimness"-weakness, indeterminacy, lack of imminence, and lack of determination, all of which exemplify the young minister.
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