External and Internal Conflict in “Young Goodman Brown”
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” manifests a duality of conflict – both an external conflict and an internal conflict. It is the purpose of this essay to explore both types of conflict as manifested in the story.
In the opening lines of the tale there is a compulsion, representing internal conflict, indicated on the part of both the protagonist and his wife Faith:
"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, "pr'ythee, put off your journey until sunrise, and sleep in your own bed tonight. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts, that she's afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!"
"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!"
And Faith, hopeful that the compulsion will not get the best of her during the night, responds:
"Then God bless you!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons, "and may you find all well, when you come back."
Q.D. Leavis says in “Hawthorne as Poet” that “It is a journey he takes under compulsion, and it should not escape us that she tries to stop him because she is under a similar compulsion to go on a ‘journey’ herself” (36). So the main male and female characters are manifesting similar compulsions toward evil against which they must struggle. And these are the main internal conflicts in the story. The other characters in the tale have already capitulated or given in to this conflict in their own lives.
En route to the site of the coven Brown learns from the evil fellow-traveler just how compelled to evil his forbears had been, and they had lost the internal fight against evil:
"Such company, thou wouldst say," observed the elder person, interrupting his pause. "Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's War. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you, for their sake."
Shortly thereafter Goodman is shown this internal struggle as it applies to Goody Cloyse, his old catechism teacher who has lost the battle and practices witchcraft and is presently en route to the witch-meeting. And immediately...