Transcendentalism and “Young Goodman Brown”
“Young Goodman Brown” manifests characteristics of the onetime Transcendentalist beliefs of its author in its abundance of symbolism and in its emphasis on individuality and personal responsibility.
Let us briefly review the life of the author up to and including his brief acceptance of Transcendentalism. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on July 4, 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, to a family that had been prominent in the area since colonial times. A rich lore of family and local history provided much of the material for Hawthorne's works. When Nathaniel was four, his father died on a voyage in Surinam, Dutch Guinea, but maternal relatives recognized his literary talent and financed his education at Bowdoin College. Among his classmates were many of the important literary and political figures of the day: writer Horatio Bridge, future Senator Jonathan Ciley, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and future President Franklin Pierce. These prominent friends supplied Hawthorne with government employment in the lean times, allowing him time to bloom as an author.
Hawthorne was extremely concerned with conventionality; his first pseudonymously published short stories imitated Sir Walter Scott, as did his 1828 self-published Fanshawe. Hawthorne later formally withdrew most of this early work, discounting it as the work of inexperienced youth. 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 later 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, 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: 1. According to Levy, he “is Everyman. The bargain he has struck with Satan is the universal one . . . . Initially, he is a naive and immature young man who fails to understand the gravity of the step he has taken . . . [which is] succeeded by a presumably adult determination to resist his own evil impulses”...