As dusk settled in the town of Salem, Goodman Brown kissed his wife, Faith, goodbye and commenced his journey toward the gloomy forest, an unholy errand he believed to be an exceptional one. While Brown paraded down the path, he expressed his concern about what may be lurking around and, as he continued, a mysterious man with a staff resembling a snake, approached him from nearby. Brown’s conscience told him to turn back, as this older man had a fatherly resemblance of both Brown and the Devil. He then expressed that even Brown’s father and grandfather had walked this same path, as he helped them in their wicked ways. Not long after, Brown was amazed to see Goody Cloyse, the pious old women who once taught him his catechism, to seemingly be a witch. Brown was still confident that he could leave the forest, and as his companions departed, the lively staff was left behind as he, sat himself down on the stump of a tree and refused to go any further (Hawthorne). However, Brown discovered the most pious villagers, including the clergy members, passing on their way to a meeting where a young woman was taken into communion that night. Voices from Salem village, along with that of Faith, could be heard from the distance. Without thought, Brown rushed forth into the forest where he reached a gathering of witches sabbath, thus crossing over to the Devil. As a pair, Brown stood with Faith along what they believed was irredeemable wickedness. When evil prepared to baptize the newcomers into the deep mystery of sin Brown exclaimed to Faith, look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one (Hawthorne). Then suddenly, the scene had ended and Brown was abandoned in the forest alone, where we are left wondering if this witch-meeting was a dream or a figment of Brown’s reality.
Nathaniel Hawthorne uses Young Goodman Brown to portray the Puritan Salem’s witchcraft frenzy that occurred during his ancestor’s time. Religion was very important to the Puritans of Salem village with the church being the political and social center of life. Law required all villagers to attend church every week and follow a strict moral code, with any violators said to be committing a sin against God. Because the Devil, chooses people who are considered to be the weakest in maintaining Puritan morals, Puritans were afraid that the Devil was always present, making the thought of witchcraft even more frightening (Religious Influences). These witches caused hysteria in Salem and continued to affect all citizens in the village, which ultimately broke trust between its people. During the trials of the sinners, Hawthorne’s great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, served as a judge in the years 1662 and 1663. These people, many of whom were women and children, were deemed punishable under Puritan Law and were convicted based on testimonials. During this time, 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and some were even executed (Blumberg). In the story, Hawthorne mocks the mass hysteria of the era by casting the entire village of Salem as devil worshippers. When Brown made his way toward the congregation, the Devil announced:
There are all whom ye have reverenced from youth This night it shall be granted you know their secret deeds: how hoary-bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eager for widows’ weeds, has given her husband a drink at bedtime and let him sleep his last sleep in her bosom: how beardless youths have made haste to inherit their fathers wealth; and how fair damsels- blush not, sweet ones- have dug little graves on the harden, and bidden me, the sole guest to an infant’s funeral. (Hawthorne)
Brown is one of the very people, who among his followers, have been found standing in the path of the Devil, just as those during the Salem Witch Trial. Anyone could have been accused and tried for a crime, only that person knew if they committed. Thus, how could these villagers indict one another when everyone of them were living a sin? Furthermore, the daunting feeling in the forest and the witchery taking place during the story would also represent a sin to the Puritans in Salem and, thus, symbolizes the relationship between oneself and his or her faith.
The setting of Salem village for this story is fitting for the ideals Hawthorne is trying to portray to his readers. The fact that all people are capable of cruelty, hatred, and dishonesty- even the church members of the town-shows that anyone may be a friend with the Devil. So, because Salem’s witches were sinners working for the man himself, it is only fitting that these sinners were also seen at a ceremony with the Devil in the story of Goodman Brown. If the setting was not in Salem but in some other colonial village, the stronghold of faith and a character stepping outside of that faith, may seem peculiar to its readers. Additionally, two of the characters present at the witches’ sabbath were actually from the Salem Witch Trials (Wesely). Both Goody Cloyse and Martha Carrier would no longer be significant and meaningful in their contribution to the story as a whole. Finally, the dark forest is a clear representation of the moral and psychological turmoil with evil which is where the women of Salem were bewitched and where Brown was enticed to that night. Without the wooded forest, in both settings, we would no longer feel the unholiness and fear that both Brown felt as well as the community of Salem when this endeavor took place. From this, any other setting may not have led to the connections we can make with Hawthorne and the importance of his past with the telling of his story.
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