Review of Selected Criticism of "Young Goodman Brown" Kavis Fleming (VCU, 1995)
Baym, Nina. "Thwarted Nature: Hawthorne as Feminist." Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Study of the Short Fiction. Edited by Nancy Bunge. New York: Twayne, 1993.
This chapter looks at "Young Goodman Brown" from the perspective of the female characters. Baym notes that the protagonists, usually male, reject any sexual relationship with a woman, ordinarily the wife or fiancee (136). Usually, the rejection has a fatal effect on the scorned woman. Baym notes that stories written before 1842 have a female character who is destroyed only by accident not by intention. She notes that Brown's departure from Faith was not an intentional act since Brown actually planned on returning to her after the forest trip. But Baym believes that the very act of the man leaving the woman shows the male's indifference to the security of their female counterparts. Baym sees the women as being sexual beings and men as "sexually frozen" (138). She advises that man's lack of sexual desire is what truly kills the woman and allows the man to continue living in a hollow life. Baym quickly assures her readers that her comments do not reflect "the real nature of women but about the way in which men imagine them" (138). She suggests that Hawthorne's men are obsessed with females but the only way they can make any connection with women is through fantasy.
Coleman, Arthur. "Hawthorne's Pragmatic Fantasies." CLA Journal 31 (1988): 360-71.
This article looks at the role of fantasy in many of Hawthorne's works. There is a very small section devoted to "Young Goodman Brown". In general, Coleman focuses on Hawthorne's use of fantastic, eerie settings. "Young Goodman Brown" works as both reality and fantasy because of the distressed mind of Brown which could lead him to imagine bizarre events. Hawthorne's question at the end of the story keeps the wondrous events within a sensible realm (362).
Easterly, Joan Elizabeth. "Lachrymal Imagery in Hawthorne's 'Young Goodman Brown'." Studies in Short Fiction 28 (1991): 339-43.
Joan Easterly claims in her article that Goodman Brown is a changed man after his experience in the woods. She notes that Hawthorne demonstrates how Brown, a Puritan, fails the test of his moral and spiritual being. Easterly points out that Brown does not cry after realizing what he has witnessed at the witches' commune. By not crying or realizing his inner emotions, Brown cannot progress morally or spiritually. This explains the symbolism that Hawthorne uses throughout the work. For example, the cold drops from the hanging twig as Brown awakes are not a Christian baptism since the water does not sprinkle on his head like in most Christian baptisms (340). The dewdrops represent, according to Easterly, the reproval of Brown and his own wickedness. Brown's lack of tears shows that he has no pity or compassion for the witches and therefore he cannot be a true Christian himself. Easterly concludes that Young Goodman Brown is emotionally sterile compared with the emotionally charged witches' meeting.
Hardt, John S. "Doubts in the American Garden: Three Cases of Paradisal Skepticism." Studies in Short Fiction 25 (1988): 249-59.
Three works are discussed in this article: "Rip Van Winkle", "Young Goodman Brown", and "The Fall of the House of Usher." In all of the works, the main characters enter natural or edenic settings only to meet with evil forces. Hardt terms this "paradisal skepticism" or "a retreat from the paradisal ideal with a recognition of limits in human knowledge" (249). Most critics characterize these works as portraits of the American experience but instead of man moving from ignorance to knowledge, man accepts that he is not capable of knowing everything. In the section on "Young Goodman Brown," Hardt writes that the woods were once the Garden of Eden but have since been contaminated by the serpent (the old man) who is now in control of the wilderness. Brown's departure from faith, both literally and figuratively, is a trip towards uncertainty where his knowledge will be tested. Hawthorne allows gaps between what Brown actually sees with his eyes and what he perceives like the serpent-like form of the old man's staff. Hardt advises that both Brown and the narrator have limited knowledge in that neither can decipher whether the witches communion was real or imagined. He concludes by noting that the only true knowledge that Goodman Brown gains after his experience is that he cannot know everything and he does not know everything. Brown's lack of certainties affect him as he leaves the forest and begins to question the motives of all of the familiar townspeople.
Shear, Walter. "Cultural Fate and Social Freedom in Three American Short Stories." Studies in Short Fiction 29 (1992): 543-49.
"Young Goodman Brown," like James' "The Jolly Corner" and Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," has a triptych structure. In the first portion, the main character is seen in a detached state from his normal environment. The second section takes the character to an unfamiliar surrounding with bizarre happenings. The last section returns the character to his normal surroundings but in an altered state where the protagonist returns to a different relationship between himself and society. Shear notes two effects produced by this arrangement which are a fast flow into past and present that accents the great space between public and private histories and that history is good for the individual (543). As Goodman Brown leaves Faith, he becomes an individual psychologically. His departure from his wife is not only a symbolic loss of faith, but it is also his leaving behind "conventional belief" (545). In the woods, Brown's religion is absent; therefore the familiar woods are nightmarish. He must struggle with the people in the woods in order to hold on to his morals and values. It is him against society and he is betrayed by that very society. At the end, Goodman Brown leaves the fantasy and returns to normal society. He is more aware of himself and of his relationship with other members of society. Shear says that Brown represents the unstable Puritanism as it decreases in its religious conviction and becomes somewhat hypocritical (547). Brown's revulsion of his wife and community represents his own need to psychologically repress his reasons for taking the first step into the forest.
Waggoner, Hyatt H. Hawthorne: A Critical Study. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1963.
Waggoner compares Poe's Roderick Usher with Goodman Brown. He says that the difference between the two centers on "real morbidity and real health" (25). Brown's secret guilt leads him into isolation since he becomes bitter because he had been given over to the evil in the world by actively participating in it (92). There is very little overt action and the plot usually consist of some type of journey. Also Waggoner advises that Brown's fall from grace is less fortunate than the falls of other Hawthorne's protagonists. Brown's fall begins when he loses faith in the Puritan principles. "From being an Innocent, he became a Cynic and so was lost because he could not accept the world as it really is" (210).
Williamson, James L. " 'Young Goodman Brown': Hawthorne's 'Devil in Manuscript'." Studies in Short Fiction 18 (1981): 155-162.
Williamson begins the article by commenting on Hawthorne's definition of a good author. He advises that Hawthorne deemed the best writers as those with a little "devil" in them. Williamson comments on Hawthorne's critique of women writers where Hawthorne says, "Generally women write like emasculated men...; but when they throw off the restraints of decency, and come before the public stark naked, as it were,- then their books are sure to possess character and value" (155). Hawthorne means that writers should shed old conventions/traditions in order to write a good story. Williamson compares a main character, Oberon, in "The Devil in Manuscript," who gives himself to the devil with Goodman Brown who does not give himself to the devil. Williamson suggests that in "Young Goodman Brown" there is a connection between the writer and the devil and the writer/speaker is actually a member of the devil's party. He writes also that Brown actually meets with three devils: the old man, Goody Cloyse, and the speaker. The speaker is the devil in the manuscript in that he has the ability to make Brown and the reader perceive devilish qualities of the other characters. The often satiric tone of the speaker also hints at his devil-like qualities.
Zanger, Jules. " 'Young Goodman Brown' and 'A White Heron': Correspondences and Illuminations." Papers on Language and Literature 26 (1990): 346-57.
This article focuses on works by Sarah Orne Jewett, "A White Heron," and Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown." Zanger discusses the centrality of both stories on New England life. Both stories work well together as Jewett's story carries on the theme of "Young Goodman Brown ."The structural elements, as well, of both stories are similar. Zanger notes that both protagonists leave at sunset, quickly meet mysterious strangers and then accept the evil givings of the tempter or villian. Both characters revert from their intentions. In Hawthorne's story, Brown cries to Faith to resist the evil and in Jewett's story, Sylvy refuses to tell the hunter where the heron nests. Zanger notes that each story ends in "deliberate ambiguity" (349). In Brown's case, Hawthorne leaves the reader questionning whether Brown's experience was real or fantasy. He also questions whether Brown's cry to refuse the evil was of any value since his life after the woods remains desolate. There are some differences also between the two works that Zanger notes. For example, "Jewett's wilderness is 'real'" (350). Hawthorne does not go into detail about the animals in the forest unlike Jewett who specifically describes each one. Also, Jewett's forest is not clouded with evil undertones like the one that Goodman Brown enters. In relation to the individual characters, Brown begins his journey by choice as opposed to Sylvy who feels compelled to find the home of the heron. Zanger refers to Brown as one of the "straw men" who never questions the devils provocations. He also notes that Brown finally resists the devil based on fear, not faith (354). Zanger accepts the existing conclusion that, in light of the numerous similarities and differences, Jewett wrote "A White Heron" as a response to Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown".
On psychoanalytic criticism of "Young Goodman Brown"