Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’ is an exemplary twist of the conscious expectations vis a vis the unconscious yet comprehensible aspects of life. The setting as well as the descriptive detail of the story depicts the interconnection between the dark and the light in life. Furthermore, the story also alludes to the thin line between the good and the evil nature of mankind. It establishes a premise for suspicious consideration of possibilities in the characterization of men based on the observed features as opposed to their actual characters exhibited in enclosure. The distinction between individual values and the perceived vices of others can result in contemptuous outlooks, which to some extent result in melancholy and dread. From the story of Goodman Brown as depicted in the short story, it can be deduced that Hawthorne’s work is descriptive of a dream rather than a satanic trick. The eventualities in the story also distinguish it from key features of reality stories.
Young Goodman Brown has been described in numerous counts on the basis of the psychoanalytic critic theory. According to the works of Murfin (502 – 514), psychoanalytic criticism is based on the perception that dreams are to some extent, psychic explorations. While this perspective is not lucidly explained by the author, it brings about the impression that through dreams, it is possible for people to foretell or to experience a foreboding of events to come. Applying this to the context of Hawthorne’s story brings about a different consideration. In the story, the main character, Young Goodman Brown, can be said to have been experiencing a dream. The difficulty of separating the dream from the psychic elements entailed therein fosters the adoption of Murfin’s perception. For instance, the author clearly describes sounds, voices and names that are known to the main character in real life (4-5). Voices of Deacon Gookin and voices that the persona recognized to be of his wife, Faith, both form part of the exceptional experiences that the main character undergoes. In normal dreams, such experiences may present faces but the voices and the names are in most cases hidden from the person experiencing the dream. This implies that there is a possibility, that Young Goodman Brown’s experience was not simply a dream, but a psychic experience embodied in a dreamlike outlook.
Besides the psychic perception about dreams, the psychoanalytic theory is also associated with the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious. Moores (par. 1- 4) and Murfin (503) assert that the human nature is characterized by an ego as well as a super ego. While the ego directs man’s actions in the conscious, the super-ego encourages man to indulge in self-sacrifice for the benefit of many. Moores (par. 3) describes another nature referred to as the alter –ego. The three concepts of human nature bring the impression that human nature can be controlled either within or without the person. The ego controls human activities through the personal conscience, and consistently reminds one of the path they should tread. On the other hand, the super- ego mainly motivates men’s actions from an unconscious, seemingly absent perspective. The alter- ego exposes the dark self of man, resulting in a never- ending conflict between the conscious self and the unconscious self. The story of Goodman Brown can be used in the description of the three descriptive that can be attached to any individual.
From the story, the interactions between the ego and the alter- ego are observable in the journey taken by Goodman Brown from his house to the point of discernment in the wilderness. For instance, while leaving his wife on the street, he thinks of the evil he is about to commit and promises himself that it would be the last evil he would commit before coming back to her for the rest of her life (Hawthorne 1). This is the conscious self that reminds one of the paths they should follow. At the same time, there is the alter ego, or alter personality, appearing in the form of his shadow. The man with the serpent as a walking stick is the alter- ego in the story (Hawthorne 2). His intention is to prove to the persona that evil is in every man’s nature, and he does this through perfected exemplification. Using all those to whom Goodman Brown looked up are used as examples of how evil men can be. People such as his Goodman’s grandfather and father, his catechism teacher as well as the pastor and the deacon are all mentioned by the alter ego (Hawthorne 4). The main objective of this action would be to divert Goodman Brown from the good way he had chosen to tread. Using the known elements of his life to mislead his steps appeared to be the most logical explanation of the alter- ego’s actions. The super-ego is evident in the Goodman’s actions confirmed through the claims that he moved without actually pushing himself to or rather, he found himself moving (Hawthorne 6). Such is the nature of the super ego which drives men from the outside in terms of conscious awareness. In this case, it is probable that while the narrator may not have been aware of the occurrences and the decisions happening within him, he could have acted contrary to the directions of the super ego and the alter- ego.
The perception of dreams as psychic impressions appears plausible in multiple personality aspect of the story. On the one hand, it shows the multiplicity of other people’s characters while on the other; it shows the multiplicity of Goodman Brown’s potential character. According to Moores (par. 3), the story depicts the meeting between the physical Goodman Brown and his shadow. In this regard, the man with the serpent walking stick is the shadow, which portrays the in-depth character of Goodman Brown, which his other self could not come to terms with earlier. It depicts the in-built evil in Goodman through the use of an alter- personality. Through the convictions and the removal of every aspect that the main character depends on for survival in the righteous realm, the alter- ego creates an environment that gives the persona an opportunity to do evil. For instance, all the pious men and women that the persona looked up to initially as well as his pious wife, whom he hoped would be his only physical support besides the heavens above, have been progressively eliminated from the righteous zone (7 -8). In this way, the alter ego gets the main character to change his perception about the world as well as about people as a whole. He loses hope in life and does not have fun anymore. Life presents more questions and suspicion to the persona instead of hope and calmness.
The contradiction between the conscious personality and the unconscious can at times bring about negative feelings as depicted in the story of Goodman Brown. In most cases, such thoughts result in depression as well as other personality conditions that require counseling to be addressed. While the possibility of the story being a dream is eminent, the impacts it has on the persona are not as expected of a dream. At the same time, it is impossible to foretell of the psychic capability of the experiences held by the persona. The loneliness at the end of his perceived ordeal as well as throughout the persona’s ensuing life depicts life changing experiences that could have marred his peaceful existence to a large extent. It depicts loss of hope and direction and complete loss of optimism. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the condition of the persona towards the end of the story portrays the condition described as Oedipus complex (Murfin 504). Individuals suffering from Oedipus complex face fears, anxieties and anger that are the results of repressing their actual wishes or feelings. Upon experiencing such fears, the victims may experience dreams that remind them of their status relative to what they portray to the public.
Founding the explanation of the story on the concept of Oedipus complex, it is possible that Goodman Brown himself had been repressing desires to walk along the path of darkness to some extent. He may have felt chained within the societal expectations as explained through his reasons for resisting the wilderness’ path. For instance, he cites the respect that both his father and grandfather had within the society. He reports that he cannot continue on the dark path at night due to the probability of being met by others who knew him differently. The response of the alter ego to his suggestions gives the impression that everyone has a dark side and that no one ever talks about their own dark side. The only other person who is aware of an individual’s dark side is their shadow. The voices in the conscious versus those in the subconscious mind can result in personality conflicts, which bring about feelings of bondage. In real life, such feelings can be repressed and/ or ignored and pushed to the subconscious. In the dreams, the same feelings persist and are experienced as if real to the victim (Murfin 506). The same was probably the case with Goodman Brown, resulting in greater pressure and even higher chances of fear. By actually experiencing the dream and being unable to separate the dream from a psychic manifestation or a real occurrence, Goodman Brown is affected throughout his remaining life cycle.
Themes in the Story
In Hawthorne’s story, the key theme that emerges is that of juxtaposition. The combination of good and evil brings about the greatest impression of juxtaposition in the story. For instance, the combination of the nature of the main character as depicted through descriptions of feelings, the known and the unknown actions and the hidden desires depicted in the dream brings about the impression that it is impossible to separate different natures of human life. The same juxtaposition characterizes each and everyone’s life. From the members of the church, church leaders and even the young ones such as Goodman Brown, the duality of life is eminent. Each of the characters in the story depicts a double nature combining a good side which is portrayed to the general public and to those who know them in a positive light. The same people hold a dark side that is only visible to the others with whom they engage in the deeds of darkness. In each of these people, each of the sides perfectly hides the nature of the other and prevents them from associating with those whom they consider to possess different characteristics. For instance, all the members of the Salem District who are considered to be pious and who abhor evil in the daylight accept and mingle with the same evil in the darkness of the midnight and away from the eyes of other pious ones. None of these people judges the other in the darkness where their deeds meet. This shows perfect combination and assimilation of good into evil instead of the good repelling the evil as is expected. Such juxtaposition creates the perception of the inevitability of human evil in spite of the positive perceptions created by man.
The combination of different characters also fosters the theme of pretense, particularly through the depiction of Oedipus complex in Goodman Brown. From the descriptions made by various authors such as Murfin and Moores, Oedipus complex is associated with the presence of competing personalities as depicted in the story. There can only be one explanation behind this perception. The explanation therefore is founded on the argument that throughout his life, based on the story from the beginning, Goodman Brown has lived a life that is characterized by piety. However, there is a resident evil in him, which drives him towards accepting his companion’s proposal for a meeting despite being fully aware that the impending meeting was to initiate an evil trail. Furthermore, his decisions are made consciously with the intention that his Faith should not be aware of the evil in him. He even promises himself that he would not engage in any more evil activities after the final evil act. The description of the coming night prior to actually meeting and discussing with his companion portrays a conscious awareness of the intentions of the night, and the work that is to be done. The description only purposes to show the level of pretense that can be availed in a man’s heart. The same is depicted through the actions of Faith. As her husband leaves, she whispers his desire to have him by her side at least for that single night. Her actions and the final events in the story clearly indicate the kind of pretense that is associated with individuals who understand that their words have no potential of diverting the decisions of others. In the case of Faith, she knew her husband already made the decision to travel and her own plans were in place. The efforts to convince him were also made in pretense as evidenced by the turn of events later in the story.
The theme of pretense trends through the entire story, not only among the major characters but also among those in whom they believed and laid their trust. It is the exposure of such characters that lead the main character into depression and the melancholy that forms a major part of his life after the dream. The realization that everyone he knows, from the catechist to the deacon and his dear Faith, all have alternative personalities drives the persona to the brink of despair as he loses interest in life (Hawthorne 8-9). He becomes suspicious of all he sees based on his experience of their negative sides. The same impact is felt in reality when the things that one holds precious or of value are ridiculed and taken for granted through pretense. By showing Goodman Brown that all those who taught him his values are walking in the path of darkness, his alter- ego made it impossible for him to believe in the potential good of any of them. His perception of their positive sides was clouded completely by his experience of the negative. The pretense in the story thus paints a picture of the light which tries hard to hide the darkness. Eventually, when the darkness cannot hide anymore, it exposes itself through efforts to initiate a more powerful light into the dark realm.
The story of Young Goodman Brown is a perfect representation of the place of dreams in reality. The story, through the use of juxtaposition and the theme of pretense, exemplifies the conceptual human life. It clearly shows the effects of repressing certain feelings, fears or anxieties and how they may affect an individual’s life to a great extent. Through the life of Goodman Brown, the author exemplifies the combination of the light and the dark in each individual’s life, and the possibility of hiding one character to the extent of being completely unnoticeable by others. From the psychoanalytic perspective, this is described through the concept of Oedipus complex, which results in the manifestation of such repressed fears and feelings through dreams.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. In Mosses from an old Manse. Eldritch Press, 1854. Retrieved from www.eldritchpress.org/nh/ygb.html
D, J. Moores. Young Goodman Brown’s ‘evil purpose’: Hawthorne and the Jungian Shadow. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, vol. 27, no. 3- 4. (2005). Retrieved from www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-147792446/young-goodman-brown-s-evil-purpose-hawthorne-and
Murfin, Ross C. Psychoanalytic criticism and Jane Eyre. (Undated). Pp. 502- 513. Retrieved from http://www.ux1.eiu.edu/~rlbeebe/what_is_psychoanalytic_criticism.pdf