“Young Goodman Brown” and Transcendentalism
A reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” indicates that the author adheres to some, but not all of the Transcendentalist beliefs of the nineteenth century, especially in its symbolism and in its emphasis on personal responsibility.
Morse Peckham in “The Development of Hawthorne’s Romanticism”explains some aspects of Hawthorne’s Transcendentalist beliefs:
But another theme begins to appear, a matter which now involved Hawthorne in the gravest difficulties, the theme of American simplification, that notion that was so common among American Romantic Transcendentalists; not only is world redemption possible, but America is the predestined place for it to happen. . . . he was intellectualy and culturally too sophisticated, too modern, to be able to enter fully into the Transcendentalist vision, which was already an outmoded stage of Romanticism, at least for the advanced. . . . One of the marks of Transcendentalism is a fantastic extravagance of style. . . .Hawthorne achieves the equivalent of stylistic extravagance (95-96).
Hawthorne’s initiation into Transcendentalism began prior to his Brook Farm experience..
From 1836 to 1844 the Boston-centered Transcendentalist movement, led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, believed that human existence transcended the sensory realm, and rejected formalism in favor of individual responsibility. Hawthorne's fiancee Sophia Peabody drew him into "the newness," and in 1841 Hawthorne invested $1500 in the Brook Farm Utopian Community, leaving disillusioned within a year. His works show some Transcendentalist influence, including a belief in individual choice and consequence, and an emphasis on symbolism. “Young Goodman Brown” would convey these ideals, emphasizing symbolism and contrasting the generally accepted Puritan morality with Goodman Brown’s individual, less evil personal morality.
“Young Goodman Brown” takes place in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem village: It was “the center of the witchcraft delusion, in the witching times of 1692, and it shows the populace of Salem Village, those chief in authority as well as obscure young citizens like Brown, enticed by fiendish shapes into the frightful solitude of superstitious fear” (Abel 133).
In "Young Goodman Brown" Goodman Brown is a Puritan husband who lets his individualistic impulses lead him into a personal encounter with the devil himself. Goodman Brown, according to Levy, “is Everyman” (117). Fogle writes that he is “a naive young man who accepts both society in general and his fellow men as individuals at their own valuation” (15).
The tale begins when Brown is starting to set out into the woods for a secret meeting. Faith, Brown's wife, asks him not to go because she would be lonely and troubled by dreams. Goodman Brown responds that "this one night I must tarry away from thee." When he says his "love" and his "Faith," he...