Young Goodman Brown

All right, I must first get this out of the way: I don’t like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing style. I mean, he’s the guy who wrote The Scarlett Letter.

But I’ll have to admit that his short story “Young Goodman Brown” is a very intriguing piece of work. The context? I’m taking an English class (ENGL 1170: Short Stories) for my writing seminar, and our primary book is 40 Short Stories compiled by Beverly Lawn. “Young Goodman Brown” is the first story. Of course, I don’t intend to write a blog post on each one, but I will share the ones I find the most awesome. This means I will be adding to this blog another category: Short Stories.

I would encourage you to read “Young Goodman Brown” if you haven’t already. In case, here is an online copy of the text: http://www.online-literature.com/hawthorne/158/.

Dream or Reality?

In the fifth to last paragraph, Goodman Brown wakes up in a forest and doesn’t know whether the previous events of his being at a devil worship in the forest were real or a dream. Hawthorne leaves it ambiguous. (Remember, this was published in 1835, fully 175 years before Inception.)

I would argue it’s a dream.

First, the story is too supernatural. The devil figure in the woods carries a serpentine staff that seems to animate twice. The first time Brown dismisses it as an “ocular deception” (p. 2 of 40 Short Stories). The second time, though still uncertain, is quite vivid:

So saying, he threw it [the staff] at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to the Egyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not take cognizance. (5)

The fact that Brown sees the staff coming to life twice may imply it isn’t just by mistake. And even if you don’t take the staff’s animation as a sign of the supernatural, perhaps you will take the actual devil figure as supernatural.

Second, it’s too coincidental. Of course, most literature have those moments when the right thing happens at the right place, at the right time, but here, one scene does seem very contrived. It is scene in which Goodman Brown sees the pink ribbon fall from the sky, the pink being ribbon a part of Faith, his wife. It is an extreme coincidence that the ribbon happens to fall in the middle of the woods precisely where Brown is sitting, and at precisely the time he calls out for Faith. (Then again, the very much real ‘A’ that appeared in the sky in The Scarlett Letter was a super coincidence as well.)

Third, when Goodman Brown wakes up he is in an uncorrupted forest. The most telling sentence is this:

He staggered against the rock, and felt it chill and damp; while a hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew. (12)

So, when just before, the twig had been on fire and the rock had been hot and dry, they are now cool and moist. This isn’t even in the morning. He wakes up to find himself here in the middle of the calm night. Thus, we have sufficient reason to believe the journey of Goodman Brown is but a dream.

7 thoughts on “Young Goodman Brown”

      1. I’m aware that we’re only supposed to use scholarly sources, but I’m having trouble finding any. We need two sources aside from the text to answer the exact question you answered over three years ago. Any idea?

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        1. The first idea that came to mind was a google scholar search (http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=young+goodman+brown+dream) and there may be a few things there. However, it may be difficult to access some of the articles given many of the first hits are on JSTOR, and I don’t know if your university gives you free access to it.

          You could also try a .edu site only search (https://www.google.com/search?as_q=young+goodman+brown+dream&as_sitesearch=.edu). This seems to give better results.

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