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Symbolism Used In Young Goodman Brown English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1154 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The short story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathanial Hawthorne is written as an allegory and focuses on the temptation that human nature faces daily. Due to the style in which the story is written it is necessary to focus on the symbolism to try and understand the underlying meaning of the story. While reading the story the reader is able to experience different reactions and feelings due to the fact that the symbolism makes the story more relatable. The reader is then left at many times to wonder and assume the significance of each character, idea, name or object holds in the story. It seems that it is necessary to incorporate the symbolism into the story because without it the audience wouldn’t have been bothered to discover what the story really represents.

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The beginning of the story starts out with Young Goodman Brown and his wife Faith in their home talking. He is explaining to her that he needs to go on a journey “This one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs to be done” (Meyer 325) and that when he gets back they can finally enjoy their newly married life. She continuously asks him not to go “prithee put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed tonight” (325), and while he considers it for a point in time, he ends up leaving anyways. She begs him to be careful and at first the reader is unaware of where he is going, but he makes it clear that he must go and that it serves some evil purpose. After Faith assures him that she will be awaiting his return, he feels more confident in his journey. By her restoring the idea that she will be waiting for him Faith shows that she symbolizes the true idea of Faith and innocence.

Through the story it also seems that she symbolizes his faith in religion and staying true to his religion and resisting the urge to fall into the temptation of Evil. When she asks him to stay, and he considers it, it was symbolizing that, while he was being tempted to sin, his faith in his religion and to his innocence kept calling him back. Although he didn’t want to necessarily abandon his faith, he felt he had to go on this journey now that he knew that when he came back from his journey she would be there. This is symbolizes the true idea of religion, that is that there is always a rebirth and somebody is always able to reconcile their sins once they realize what they’ve done and take responsibility for their past indiscretions.

A little ways into the story after Young Goodman Brown leaves Faith, he wonders into the Forest with a new appreciation for being alone. However a little ways into the forest he realizes that he might not be the only person in this forest ‘There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree, What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow?” (325). The reader may then start to think, that although Young Goodman Brown wanted to go on this journey he is now fully aware, that whatever evil purpose this journey serves, he may come face to face right with the devil and not even know it. At the next moment when he comes across the old man, he doesn’t think much of this old man except that he looks like an older version of himself, but it seems clear that this old man serves some sort of purpose. When the old man asks him where he has been, he answers “Faith kept me back awhile” (326) symbolizing both the fact that his wife kept trying to keep him from going and also that his religious faith kept summoning him back telling him not to go.

The reader is then constantly left wondering exactly who this man is, especially as he appears right after Young Goodman Brown makes the statement about how the devil could be right next to him, and he would have no idea. It is at this point that he begins to have some doubts about going any further on his journey and makes the reader wonder why he would be so hesitant to continue. Based on the story it seems that the old man symbolizes the devil and Young Goodman Brown was hesitant to continue his journey because he was concerned that if was to continue he may come upon the devil in a human form. It really does seem that the old man is the devil in disguise, showing how easy it is to get caught up in temptation as it human nature to surround everybody. The old man would symbolize this because nobody would expect temptation to come in the form of an old man, especially an old man that reminds a person of them.

That is why it seems important that Young Goodman Brown referred to the old man as an older version of himself. For Young Goodman Brown to make a statement about the devil, so early in his journey it makes it seem as if he expected the devil to appear and he hoped that his faith would keep him safe. At one point the old man tries to persuade Goodman Brown to venture further into the forest even when he doesn’t want to anymore “Too far! Too far!” (326) symbolizing that once you’ve been tempted to do something wrong, all it takes to bring yourself back is to realize it is wrong. However the old man was able to convince him to carry on. This shows that temptation has a strange way of enticing people do things they don’t always want to do, because in the end they hope in the end their faith will stop them from any harm.

The forest itself seems to be one if not the most important symbol because he willingly walked into the forest and could have just as easily walked out once he came upon the old man. The forest did not keep him hostage, he could have left any time, he had a way out but instead he chose to continue, symbolizing that in life nobody can make a person do something they don’t want to do. Although he felt that the old man was nothing but trouble he was intrigued by the things the old man was saying and was willing to follow him, even though he knew in the back of his mind that he was abandoning his faith, both literally and figuratively.

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It seems that the symbolism used throughout the short story “Young Goodman Brown” is an important part of the story. The symbolism used helps the reader to understand the under lying meaning behind the characters and objects that Young Goodman Brown encountered. In the end it seemed to be that the resemblance between the old man and Young Goodman Brown was more than just coincidence. This comparison was used to explain the whole story that it was not the “devil” that caused him to make these mistakes, but Young Goodman Brown himself, and that idea symbolizes that no matter what temptation a person encounters, nobody can make a person do evil but themselves.

Work Cited

Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature: Boston/New York: Bedford/ST. Martins. 2009. Print


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