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A Structuralist Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.”

The structural stages in “Young Goodman Brown” may result in ambivalent reactions by the reader. One reaction is a plain recognition of the destructive effects of the events of the plot on Brown. Another reaction is bewilderment as to whether the events really took place or were all fantasy. The second reaction seems to be more a more common reaction due to the genre, plot, and structure of the story.

“Young Goodman Brown” is a short story. It is a relatively brief narrative of fiction that is characterized by considerably more unity and compression in all its parts. Its parts being theme, plot, structure, character, setting, and mood. In the story the situation is this: one evening near sunset sometime in the main character’s house, Goodman Brown prepares to leave his home and his wife, Faith, to go into the forest and spend the night on some mission that he will not disclose other than to say that it must be performed between sunset and sunrise. Although Faith has strong feelings about his journey and pleads with him to not go, Brown is adamant and sets off.

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His business is evil by his own admission. He does not state what it is specifically, but it becomes apparent to the reader that it involves attending some sort of a witch’s Sabbath in the forest. This is a skewed action in view of the picture of Brown, drawn earlier in the story. The picture is a strong Christian man who loves his wife and who intends to lead an exemplary life after this one night.

The most rising action begins when Brown leaves the village, enters the dark and gloomy forest. After some time of Brown feels he has met the Devil in the form of a respectable-looking man. Brown seems to have made a bargain to accompany him on his journey. It feels Brown has come to a realization of who his companion is and what the night may hold in store for him because he makes an effort to return to Salem when he says, “‘Too far! too far!’ exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. ‘My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept'”(234). It is a poor attempt because though the Devil does not try to detain him, Brown continues walking with him deeper into the forest.

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As they go, the Devil upsets Goodman Brown by telling him that his ancestors were religious bigots and cruel exploiters. The elder man/Devil says,

“Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans, and that’s no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip’s war. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you for their sake” (234).

Further, Brown is told that the people who govern church and state are in league with the Devil. He then sees his childhood School teacher and overhears the voices of his minister and a deacon of his church talking about the communion service to which both they and he are going.

Goodman Brown attempts to pray, but stops when a cloud darkens the sky. Brown hears many voices and many are recognizable to Brown, among them his wife. After the cloud has passed, a pink ribbon such as Faith wears in falls to the ground. After Goodman Brown sees this he seems to be upset and moves toward the assembly of people n the cave. Once inside Brown sees many people he once believed to be much like him, a righteous man who worships God. He is led to the altar to be received into this fellowship and he is joined by Faith. The climax of the story seems to come before they receive the baptism. Brown turns to his wife and askers her to look heavenward and save herself. In the next moment, he finds himself alone. “‘Faith! Faith!’ cried the husband. ‘Look up to Heaven and resist the Wicked One!'” (240)

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The resolution of the plot comes quickly. The next morning Goodman Brown is a changed man. He now doubts that anyone is good; his wife, his neighbours, the officials of church and state and he remains in this state of cynicism until he dies. Through the rest of his life, his loved ones become resentful and dislike his ill-natured way of looking at the world. The last sentence of the story sums up his life in a very dark way, like the way he lived his life. And when he had lived long and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides neighbours, not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom (241). This last sentence reveals how little he was liked in the later years of his life.

The symbolism in the story is very important to the interpretation of the text. There are obvious questions, for instance; were Brown’s experiences in the story merely a dream, or were they an actual experience? There are also less obvious questions, such as did Brown know he would meet the devil in the woods all along? The problem is both of these questions could be argued either way. One of the main reasons the short story is open to such questioning is the author’s extensive use of symbolism.

One of the first symbols seen in the story deals with Brown’s wife, Faith. She can be seen as symbolizing everything that is good and Christian to Goodman Brown. One element that has an uncertain symbolic value is the “black mass of cloud” that obscures Goodman Brown’s view of the reassuring sky above. “Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices” (237). This cloud is a symbol of Goodman Brown’s uncertainty and doubts in his faith. He is discovering more and more people are not what they seem. This also raises the question of whether or not Brown was dreaming of these events. It seems clear that this question is important to the interpretation when he asks, Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting? (241)

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The use of color as a symbol is also very dominant in the story’s interpretation. The dark black forest, gray gloomy clouds, pink ribbons, sunset, dusk, etc. are all examples of Hawthorne’s use of color as a symbol for interpretational benefits. The pink ribbon that Faith wears helps paint her character as innocent and uncorrupted. The dark colour of the forest, clouds and cave give it the evil characteristic used throughout the story. the use of color is the most important symbolism that the author uses to characterize people and events throughout the story.

The story of Young Goodman Brown is a sad yet meaningful one. The use of symbolism is very important and so are it’s binaries. The structuralist approach is best in many opinions but it does leave a few unexplained or unacknowledged elements. The question of reality versus dream and dark versus light has many interpretations and you cannot define one as the true answer. Overall I believe the structuralist approach is best because it seems clearer to interpretation and understanding of the text.

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A Structuralist Analysis of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown.". (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved June 29, 2022, from