Theme in “Young Goodman Brown”
The theme is the “general concept or doctrine, whether implicit or asserted, which an imaginative work is designed to incorporate and make persuasive to the reader” (Abrams 170). The theme in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is explained in this essay, but it is not as obvious or apparent as the theme is in many literary works.
The reader begins to receive an inkling or clue regarding the theme when Goodman, having left his wife, Faith, all alone and melancholy, enters the woods and encounters a sinister type with him he has previously made an appointment for this particular evening:
As nearly as could be discerned, the second traveller . . . had an indescribable air of one who knew the world, and would not have felt abashed at the governor's dinner-table, or in King William's court, were it possible that his affairs should call him thither. But the only thing about him, that could be fixed upon as remarkable, was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought, that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.
The evil nature of this individual is made manifest, and thus evil enters the story. From this point we can see in retrospect that evil entered the tale earlier, since Goodman practiced a deception on his wife regarding his “errand” on this night.
As the story progresses the reader sees the progression of evil: It, first of all, consumes the Puritan father and grandfather of the protagonist:
"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."
Then evil consumes the hierarchy in the political government and religious organization:
"Wickedness or not," said the traveller with the twisted staff, have a very general acquaintance here in New England. The deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen, of divers towns, make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too- but these are state-secrets."
Next, evil consumes Brown’s own dear religion instructor who is deep into witchcraft:
As he spoke, he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path, in whom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who had...