The Allegory in “Young Goodman Brown”
It is the purpose of this essay to show that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is indeed an allegory. M. H. Abrams defines an allegory as a “narrative, whether in prose or verse, in which the agents and actions, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived by the author to make coherent sense on the ‘literal,’ or primary, level of signification, and at the same time to signify a second, correlated order of signification” (5).
Yvor Winters in “Maule’s Curse, or Hawthorne and the Problem of Allegory” says that Hawthorne is essentially an allegorist (11). Stanley T. Williams in “Hawthorne’s Puritan Mind” states that the author was always “perfecting his delicate craft of the symbol, of allegory” (42).
A. N. Kaul states : “In an effort to apprehend and adequately reflect the new complexity of man’s life, he [Hawthorne] molded the venerable – in his case directly inherited – allegorical method into the modern technique of symbolism” (3). It is quite obvious from the names of the characters in the short story that their names are contrived to give a secondary signification. Goodman is on the primary level a simple husband who is following his curiosity about evil; on the level of secondary signification he is Everyman or the new Adam: R. W. B. Lewis in “The Return into Rime: Hawthorne” states: Finally, it was Hawthorne who saw in American experience the re-creation of the story of Adam and who . . . exploited the active metaphor of the American as Adam – before and during and after the Fall” (72). Goodman responds in this way to the fellow-traveller when the latter implicates the governor in devilish deeds:
"Can this be so!" cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at his undisturbed companion. "Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governor and council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simple husbandman like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make me tremble, both Sabbath-day and lecture-day!"
So by Goodman’s own words we learn that he is a simple, god-fearing husband – thus representative of all common people on the level of secondary signification.
Another character with an obviously allegorical name is Goody Cloyse. Since she is a catechism teacher, she might be considered “properly named” as Goody. On the secondary level she is representative of all the morally better people involved in church activities and good deeds. Her presence in the woods on the way to the coven indictes the universal truth that good people are tempted to evil just like the not-so-good types.
The wife of the protagonist is Faith, whose name says explicitly just what her secondary signification is – the theological virtue of Faith. As a virtue, Faith tries to save Godman from his tendency toward a deeper knowledge of evil: