Caitlin Jeffery

Exploring the depths of digital literature

You Gotta Have Faith

on January 26, 2013

I found Young Goodman Brown to be a powerful piece of work. Hawthorne uses descriptive language to create an allegorical story about Puritans during the time of the Salem witch trials. Goodman goes on a journey, leaving his wife Faith behind, he meets up with a man to continue the journey together. Along the way he discovers the people in his community aren’t the righteous God loving people he believed them to be, but sinners in league with the devil.

I liked Hawthorne’s use of the name “Faith”. She is not only a person, but a concept as well. Goodman’s Faith:

  • Begs him not to go on the journey – “‘Dearest heart,’ whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, ‘prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own be to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she’s a fears of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this nigh, dear husband, of all nights in the year!'”
  • He chooses to leave his Faith behind – “‘My love and Faith…this one night I must tarry away from thee…Poor little Faith….What a wretch I am to leave her on such an errand!…after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.’ With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose.”
  • He worries about his Faith – “‘Well, the, to end the matter at once,’ said Goodman Brown, considerable nettled, ‘there is my wife, Faith. It would break her little heart; and I’d rather break my own.’ ‘Nay, if that be the case, answered the other, ‘e’en go thy ways, Goodman Brown. I would not for twenty old women like the one hobbling before us that Faith should come to any harm.”
  • Then he hears his Faith dying – “‘Faith!’…There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered on the branch of the tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon. ‘My Faith is gone!'”
  • After the evening ends, he returns home and rejects Faith – Turning the corner by the meeting-house, he spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and bursting into such joy at sight of him that she skipped along the street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village. But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on with out a greeting.”

The line “‘My Faith is gone!” Is the most important line to me in the whole story. After his Faith dies, he picks up the walking stick that has the serpent on it, which he rejected earlier. This is almost like in The Bible when Eve eats the apple. Goodman has given in to the Devil’s and discovers sin. When he leaves Faith at the beginning he promises to come back to her and “‘cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven’,” but instead he returns and “looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on with out a greeting.” Faith is at the fire with the other Devil worshipers and earlier the devil character says “‘Faith should never come to any harm'” almost as if he is saying the devil needs people to have as much Faith as God would need them to.

The forest Hawthorne describes beautifully and hauntingly. “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind.” The forest closing behind gives the idea that Goodman has no option to turn back and must proceed forward. As he gets further into the forest, he continually worries about how pillars of his community, who are the example of all that is proper and good, would not approve of what he was doing and how would he be able to face them the next day. Yet, he soon discovers they are all taking the same path as him with the Devil. Once Goodman has the realization that these people are not what he thought, he can’t look at them the same again. When he speaks to his traveling partner, the partner talks about how he had been with Goodman’s father and grandfather when they had punished women for being witches. Hawthorne has these to people commit the same crime that his own father and grandfather committed. He is saying that the Devil was with them when they committed these grievous acts and shows his disapproval and own shame in those actions.

This whole story is a commentary on how Hawthorne views the Puritans. Pretending to live in good and with faith in God, but really they have chose the path of the Devil. I am not a religious person by any means, but the images in this story were so powerful. This story transcends religion and the time of the Puritans. At any time there are people who pretend they are good, speak righteously, and condemn others, but they themselves are not perfect and have not always been on a good path. They use their ideals to justify actions, even when the actions are unjustifiable. The only other Hawthorne I have read was The Scarlett Letter, which I did not like and made me not look as forward to reading this story. I am glad I did read it and it was the one assigned to me because I enjoyed it so much.

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13 responses to “You Gotta Have Faith

  1. This story uses really powerful imagery to show that there is a dark side to everyone. It is incredibly hard to find someone (in his time or ours) who is without some sort of shame or sin in their own background, yet everyone is always so quick to judge others. I think that you are right in pointing out how this story connects to more modern unjustifiable acts. The witch trials were nothing more than a bunch of scared women trying to get rid of rivals and a mob mentality that fueled it. This of course has been repeated throughout history with the Holocaust, Japanese Internment camps, and even McCarthyism. Perhaps this story is so powerful because it is really a commentary on human nature, which never really seems to change.

    • I definitely related it in my head to stories I have heard about homosexuals being dragged behind cars, lit on fire, or simply teased. The people doing this feel that they are righteous in their actions, when, in my opinion, they are doing what should be considered sinful.

      • I always refer to that as holier-than-thou syndrome…though of course, in all of these instances, it is taken to the absolute extreme. Even though Goodman Brown doesn’t drink the koolaid, it could still be said that he judges the townspeople harshly. He isn’t even sure whether he dreamed it or not, but he turns his back on his wife regardless for doing something that he had intentions to do.

  2. theblume says:

    That’s so creative that the author utilized the name Faith. I found this story a little hard to read, but still really enjoyable. It reveals a lot about what the Salem Witch Trials were about. Often times methods for determining whether or not a woman was a witch were completely ridiculous; like throwing them in the water with a weight and if they drown they were innocent for example. “Young Goodman Brown ” does well exposing who the real workers of the devil were.

    • I have read about the trials and they were just set up as a no win for both the men and women accused. I read that some people believe there was a mold that caused the people in the town to go crazy and increased paranoia. I think that idea is mostly to justify how people could do what they did. It is hard to believe that people would do things like that without any outside influences.

      Have you ever read The Lottery? Kinda feel like that relates to this story.

    • carrieglovka says:

      I have to agree with Rachel. This story was a little difficult for me to get through. It was sad that Goodman Brown was unable to reconcile human flaws as part of humanity. I think forgiveness and tolerance is a strong theme in this story. Interestingly enough Brown is unable to ever tolerate the sins and weaknesses of others, even going so far to cut off relationships with them. What he fails to recognize are his own personal sins of judgement and lack of compassion.

      • I am not sure that it is that he can’t tolerate the sinners or if it that he lost his faith and when he gets it back, he has seen such darkness he can never view his faith the same way. He has seen a new side of these people, but even he is not sure if it was a dream or reality. It seemed it wasn’t just faith in God he lost, but also his faith in the community.

        As a person who has never had faith in a religious sense, it is hard for me to judge what it would be like to have it tested or to lose it.

      • theblume says:

        @ Caitlin As someone whose faith plays a vital role in who I am, I can tell you to lose it would make me question every aspect of my life. All my choices are built on that foundation. 🙂

      • carrieglovka says:

        Rachel, I agree with your views on faith being a fundamental element to my life. My faith too is the most important view and foundation to my life. I have noticed that in times of trials my faith grows the most. I think this could have been one of those growth opportunities for Goodman Brown; if he’d allowed himself to grow through adversity rather than abandon his faith.

  3. I’ve read this story several times for differs Literature classes, and it always remains powerful. Funny enough, I’m not a Hawthorne fan, and have read pretty much all the Gothic fiction I can stomach, but Young Goodman Brown still resonates with me. I think the theme of temptation is strong enough to make nearly any kind of commentary on it relevant, as we’re constantly tempted by forces in our daily lives. Whether spiritual or otherwise, one of the plights of the human mind is where to put its attentions, its priorities at any given time. The puritans built their society on the idea of strict adherence to principles and divine laws, but their methods were so stiflingly extreme that they eventually became obsolete. As time capsules into these old ways of America, I think Goodman does a good job of giving historical insight as well as presenting a timeless mediation on what it means to be “good”. Glad you liked it.

  4. vonepho says:

    I’m so glad you said that this story transcends religion because I agree. The themes of deception and hypocrisy is applicable to today’s world – if not forever. This story makes me think of the lies, corruption, and hypocrisy in politics. But also, internalized racism and homophobia; people who show the world their “fake” selves in order to gain acceptance, when in reality, they’re really the thing that they condemn.

    • kbehre says:

      I, too, think this was one of the most salient observations (in a post that really is chock-full of them). In a way, it’s as much about human weakness, and doubt, than any particular system of belief (though certainly the puritan ethics by which Hawthorne was surrounded seems to have brought forth those issues with unusual resonance).

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