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Jason Cottrell

2015
Research Essay on Young Goodman Brown
Imagine the extreme shame of finding your religions hypocrisy at an even in which you
are closely tied. This is what Nathanial Hawthorne felt when he reflected on his close tie to the
Salem Witch Trials which he considered to have had an unjust conclusion. Although Hawthorne
never explicitly communicates his disgust in the Puritan religion, his feelings towards it are
illuminated through his biography and story Young Goodman Brown. Through Brown,
Hawthorne portrays the extreme depravity of the Puritan leaders by depicting Browns
introduction to wickedness as a direct result of their influence. In this way, Hawthorne
reprimands the entire Puritan community for the unjust results of hanging people who he
believed to be innocent in the Salem Witch Trials. This suppression of emotions that Hawthorne
feels towards the injustice of the trails surfaces through Browns experience with his unforeseen
dual nature of good and evil which results in a clearer understanding of the unavoidable daily
struggle in life.
Hawthornes animosity towards Puritanism sprouts from his perceived view of hypocrisy
they display in their confliction between their religious practice and outcome of the witch trials.
Growing up in a Puritan family is stressful because there are social expectations to be seen as
perfect. Allen Carden, a critic on the Puritan influence in America says that the Puritan outlook
on life is negative due to the emphasis of evils pervasiveness in the world. He goes on to say
that Puritans see mastering evil as a constant struggle which must constantly be fought even
though it will never be won (Carden 61). In light of this, to balance the natural tendency towards
evil, Puritans strive in strengthening their faith in God so that evils presence will be drowned out.
Although the Puritans do not argue against the natural wickedness of mankind, they none the less
strive in containing it. However, during the Salem Witch Trials it is obvious that evil reigned
supreme among them when they lost faith in God. As a result of being blinded by their own selfrighteousness they convicted and hung twenty people accused of witchcraft (Carden 222). This
out of control behavior of the Puritan deacons is what urged Hawthorne to expose the injustices
he felt had been hidden away. He accomplished this goal by using deacons as the sole individuals
who cultivated in Brown an understanding of evil that he previously was not aware of. Thus
Hawthorne exposes the hypocrisy of Puritanism in the injustice of the Salem Witch Trials by
portraying deacons as the sole mediators and agents of evil in Brown life (Carden 52).
As the wickedness from the witch trials earned a name for itself through history, Browns
deepest yearning to journey into the midst of the woods grew from his natural inclination
towards evil. Hawthorne uses the location of Salem to create a stronger correlation between his
character Brown and the witch trials which historically took place there. He ties the rampant
injustice of the trials to Browns leaving of Faith which relates the catastrophic unforeseen

implications of the deacons decision. Hawthorne uses Browns to be the model for how fast evil
can spread when allowed to grow. When Brown decides to leave on his journey he expects to
return to Faith as innocently as when he left her but he does not. By metaphorically showing that
Browns wife Faith is actually the faith that he once had in Puritanism, Hawthorne shows that
Salem ignored their biblical teachings in order to follow their natural desires. Hawthorne depicts
this decision to leave faith in order to act unrighteousness by paralleling this to Browns journey
into the woods. When Brown goes on his unknown quest he knows that he should not leave Faith
not only because of the trouble in her face which foreshadows the wickedness he will soon
participate in but also in his justification for leaving her for this errand. It is also explicit that
Brown was only able to leave Faith for his present evil purpose by resolving to return to her.
Little did he know that although he would return to Faith unharmed physically, his new
disposition as a result of the known mystery of sin would greatly alter his character. It is
evident that as Brown is drawn further and deeper into the woods Faith grows more distant and
the harsh reality of wickedness begin to take root. Hawthornes use of the forest is symbolism of
the unknown presence of evil which Brown initially expects to be harmless. But as Brown
ventures into the forest he is surprised by the strange satisfaction in his experience with evil. In
this way, Hawthorne uses the forest to represent the ever growing practice of wickedness that he
believes the prosecutors of the Salem Witch Trials to be guilty of (Von Frank 221).
In reflecting on the injustice of the witch trials Hawthorne begins to notice the real nature
of mankind and evidences that his faith was robbed of him like Brown when he understood the
severity of evil. Joseph Beltcher, a writer on Puritan religion argues that Puritans see in each
person a double nature (Carden 112) which emphasizes the universal struggle that every
person faces. Hawthorne articulates this through paralleling the story of Goodman Brown so
closely to his own life because he sees mans depravity through the hypocritical actions of the
church in the witch trials. Analysis of Hawthornes biography sheds light into his thoughts
regarding the injustice of the trials by exposing his view of the dual nature of man. Through
Brown, Hawthorne eludes to the constant confrontation and sense of struggle between mans
natural inclinations towards evil despite devout religious practice.
Through further study of Hawthornes journal it is evident that he views every person as
completely depraved by mentioning how man, in his progress through life picks up new
qualities such as sin (Arvin 123). This is clearly seen in Browns experience which shows that
evil forever alters a persons character for the worse. Because the presence of evil in mans life
has always been considered culturally wrong, every person then becomes obligated to suppress it
in any way possible. The Puritans masked their sin by seeking to be very zealous in their religion
and good works, this fake image within the church is what pressed Hawthorne into despising
them. As an adult, Hawthorne never wanted to attend church because he believed the
congregation only listened to the preacher to get his blessed influence (Conway 36). He would
argue that attendance at church was the Puritans method in building up superficial layers of selfrighteousness which creates a cover for the scars of depravity. In Hawthornes journal, he

allegorizes life as a masquerade in which mankind continually wears a mask in order to hide the
true identity with wickedness, he says that only so often does a natural face appear (Arvin
125). This means that mankind naturally feels vulnerable when wickedness is exposed even
though such exposure is an explicit representation of the universal depravity of mankind. In
Hawthornes perspective, the true depravity of the Puritan church and that of humanity is
revealed when they took part in the wicked actions of the Salem Witch Trials.
Hawthornes life evidences the unavoidable struggle between the dual natures within
each person. Even though this display of depravity is made evident through Brown, it is not
constrained to the Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials. This double nature of man transcends
both time and culture and is at the very core of humans. In todays culture, people seek to
conceal their depravity by any means possible just as the Puritans did. However, as seen through
Brown, simply covering up evilness does not eliminate it. The only way in which wickedness can
be defeated is by pure innocence that comes from faith in God. Hawthorne expresses this loss of
innocence through Browns departure from Faith which results in an endless state of
hopelessness. As a result of evils continuing search to take mans innocence through the
deceitfulness that naturally lies within each person, it is crucial that complacency with faith does
not happen. Through Brown, Hawthorne communicates that Puritanisms fall into injustice
during the Salem Witch Trials is a result of replacing faith in God with mans deepest desires for
evil.

Works Cited
Arvin, Newton. The Heart of Hawthorne's Journals. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin,
1929. 123-5. Print.
Carden, Allen. Puritan Christianity in America, Religion and life in Seventeenth-Century
Massachusetts.Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House, 1990. Print.
Conway, Moncure D. Life of Nathanial Hawthorne. New York: Scarce Scholarly Books, 1968.
86. Print.
Von Frank, Albert J. Critical Essays on Hawthorne's Short Stories. Boston, Massachusetts: G. K.
Hall & Co.,1990. 221. Print.