Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories Summary and Analysis of The Minister’s Black Veil
One day, Parson Hooper, the reverend of Milford, arrives at mass on the Sabbath with a black veil covering his eyes. The townspeople immediately begin to gossip; some say that he has gone mad, while others believe he is covering a shameful sin. The Minister, however, acknowledges neither his own strange appearance nor the shocked and curious whispering of the townspeople. An energetic preacher, Hooper delivers a sermon that was as powerful as the rest – but, due to his veil, the people felt a certain sadness and mysteriousness in his words. Following the sermon, the townspeople continued to gossip about the mystery of the veil. Mr. Hooper continued to act as always, greeting the children and saluting his neighbors. But, he was met with bewildered looks as the crowd avoided him. As he turned, a sad smile crept from underneath his veil.
The minister appears again at two important ceremonies. First, he attends a funeral, where the people continue to fearfully gossip that the dead woman shuddered under the minister’s gaze. That evening, he attends a wedding, and casts a dark horror over the lively event. Mr. Hooper makes a toast to the couple, but in doing so, catches his own reflection in the glass, a sight so frightful that he spilled the wine and left immediately.
His lover, Elizabeth, attempts to uncover the mystery that none had yet been able to solve. In response to her questions, though, Hooper only maintains that the veil is a symbol that he is bound to wear day and night, and that no mortal shall ever see it withdrawn. Even Elizabeth, he says, cannot see his face. She inquires as to whether the veil is to demonstrate sorrow or sin. He replies that “if I hide my face for sorrow, there is cause enough, and if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same?” He asks Elizabeth not to desert him, and tells her that he is lonely behind the veil. She asks him to lift the veil just once, but he refuses. At her departure, Hooper smiles sadly again.
For the rest of his life, Hooper was conscious of the fear his veil instilled in the townspeople. It hurt him when children ran from him, and when rumors surfaced of a terrible crime he was hiding. He as “irreproachable in outward act, yet shrouded in dismal suspicious; kind and loving, though unloved and dimly feared; a man apart from men, shunned in their health and joy, but ever summon to their aid in mortal anguish.”
At Hooper’s deathbed, Reverend Clark prays that Hooper allow the veil to be lifted. But Hooper resists with surprising strength. Still bearing his sad smile, Hooper accuses the rest of the crowd, asking why they tremble at him alone. All the townspeople have avoided him and show him no pity, he says. They are all hypocrites, as they all wear “black veils” and shield their eyes from God when they confide in others. Hopper dies and is buried with his black veil, his eyes forever covered.
Though some may wonder why Hooper chooses to wear the veil, the reason is not a central point of the story. In fact, it is the ambiguity that makes the reaction of the townspeople all the more telling of their inherent sin and hypocritical nature. While speculating as to what horrific crime the minister must have committed, they overlook their own crimes, both large and small. The minister becomes someone who is readily called in times of need, but completely avoided in times of happiness. They shun him, only because of a simple veil – and in doing so, demonstrate how shallow and unappreciative their faith truly is.
There are a number of ways to interpret the relationship between the townspeople and the minister. In one case, as described above, the people fear what they do not understand, and attribute any strange behaviors to madness or a certain evil. At no point in the story do the people attempt to consider the symbolic significance of the veil, rather they gossip about what actions caused Hooper's apparent shame. The townspeople are driven by curiosity and superstition rather than humanity.
The minister already inwardly bears the community’s sin by listening to their confessions. It is possible that the minister chose to make the greatest sacrifice he could, by bearing the sins of the community in a visible way. In doing so, the community should have understood and appreciated his constant support and strength of faith. On the contrary, they gossiped about his sin as if it were greater than their own, and as if in seeing his outward expression of sin, they could overlook their internal crimes. In the end, the minister points out how all the townspeople have treated him poorly, neglecting their own sin and focusing on his. But, it seems that they never truly understood, or repented, their actions, as the story closes with the frightful thought that the minister’s face still lay behind the veil even in death.
Other interpretations believe the veil acted as a mirror, making all the townspeople more aware of their own sins. The more aware they became of their own sinful nature, the more uncomfortable they were, and thus being around the minister and seeing his veil troubled them deeply, even during happy times. Finally, other critics have claimed that the minister had committed a grave offense, such as adultery with the girl whose funeral he attended, and this was the reason that he could not tell Elizabeth what his crime had been.
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Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories Summary and Analysis of Young Goodman Brown
Young Goodman Brown, a young and innocent man, bids farewell to his young wife, Faith. Faith asks him to stay, but Goodman Brown says he must leave, just for the evening. He ventures into the gloomy forest of Salem, and is soon approached by a man of about fifty, to whom he bears a strange resemblance. His companion wore simple clothing, but carried a staff that resembled a great black snake and seemed to move like a living serpent. Time and again, Goodman Brown protests the trip, insisting that he must turn around. But, his companion tells him that his father and grandfather had walked along the same path, as well as other important townspeople, such as the governor. Goodman Brown continues to follow. Along the path, they see a woman, Goody Cloyse, who taught Goodman Brown his catechism. His companion begins to resemble the devil, while the woman, a witch. The staff, too, seems to take life.
After a while, Goodman Brown sits down, determined to not go any father. His companions go ahead without him. As he sits, Goodman Brown thinks he hears the minister and Deacon Gookin on horseback discussing the night’s meeting and a young woman who would be taken into communion that night. Goodman Brown begins to hear voices, and among them, the lamentations of Faith. He shouts her name, but hears only a echoes, and then silence. A pink ribbon – Faith’s ribbon – flutters down form above. “Maddened with despair”, Goodman Brown rushes forth into the forest, laughing louder and louder, until he reaches the gathering. There, he sees an altar, surrounded by four blazing trees. Many of the town’s most honorable members were present, as were some of the least welcomed – the sinners and criminals. Goodman Brown is led to the altar, where a cloaked female figure is also led. A dark figure prepares to welcome them into the fold, pointing to the crowd behind them – the crowd Young Goodman Brown had reverenced from youth. The figure revealed them all as sinners, noting that “evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness”. The cloaked woman is revealed to be Faith. Before the figure could lay the mark of baptism on Goodman Brown, he called to Faith to “look up to Heaven, and resist the wicked one.” Immediately, he finds himself alone in the forest.
The next morning, Goodman Brown arrives back in town, bewildered about the events from the previous night. He runs into many people he saw in the forest – the Deacon, Goody Cloyse – all acting as if nothing had happened. He sees Faith, but passes without acknowledging her. Since the “night of that fearful dream” Goodman Brown became a dark and gloomy man, who saw nothing but blasphemy all around him.
Commonly understood themes in Young Goodman Brown have included the pervasiveness and secrecy of sin and evil alive within all people, and the hypocrisy of Puritanism. The most obvious reading is that Brown, an innocent and naive fellow, is ruined after finding hypocrisy in his religious faith (embodied in his wife, Faith). His wife, as was often the case in Puritan New England, was seen as a representation of the domestic sphere and a pure being untainted by the evils of the world, so pure that she might even save her husband. Goodman Brown puts her on a pedestal, as he does his religion, but her appearance in the forest leaves him without hope for redemption and his eventual estrangement from her signals his true estrangement from God.
A similar reading of the story revolves around the similarities between the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the fall of Brown and Faith. The devil bears a staff with a serpent on it, reminiscent of the serpent that told Adam and Eve to taste the fruit from the forbidden tree. Led to sin through curiosity, Adam and Eve lose their innocence after following the devil. Likewise, Goodman Brown watches the devil, along with other notable members of the community, heading toward the gathering. He ventures into the forest despite Faith’s warning, driven by curiosity and the devil’s appeals, just as Eve ignored God’s command to avoid the forbidden fruit. Brown's knowledge that "Evil is the nature of mankind" taints his relationships with his faith and everyone in town.
Another reading is that Brown’s experience is derived from an internalized sin. His journey into the forest was, in itself, a sinful act. He well understood that his mission was evil, and his acts impure, yet was surprised to find others whom he reverenced following the same path. In the end, he breaks from the group, attempting to relieve himself of sin. But, the effects of sin remain, forever after tainting his opinion of good and evil. As one author writes, “This is not a story of the disillusionment that comes to a person when he discovers that many supposedly religious and virtuous people are really sinful: it is, rather, a story of a man whose sin led him to consider all other people sinful. Brown came eventually to judge others by himself: he thought them sinful and hypocritical because he was sinful and hypocritical himself.” (McKeithan, 96) The idea of sin in every person, including Goodman Brown, is supported by the chameleon-like character of the Devil. By taking the shape of Brown's father, the devil demonstrates that evil can live within any person, even Young Goodman Brown himself.
Still others examine the possibility that Brown’s experience was merely a dream, and that all men fear that all men are, at the most basic level, evil. The story may be purposefully ambiguous, balanced perfectly between the good and the evil, as the story’s beginning an end are in direct opposition. (Fogle) Finally, the story has also been considered an examination of nineteenth-century gender roles and the concern that wives would encroach on their husband’s presence in the public sphere. Violation of this separation is present in the story, as Faith leaves her husband with a kiss on the doorstep, but then reemerges at the gathering. (Keil)
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Young Goodman Brown Study Guide
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Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne
The descendent of infamously harsh Puritans, and the only child of a sea captain who died when Hawthorne was four, Nathaniel Hawthorne grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. As a child, Hawthorne injured his leg and was forced to spend a year in bed; he developed a love for reading during this time. He attended Bowdoin College, then worked as an editor and wrote short stories, many of which, including “Young Goodman Brown,” were published in his 1837 collection Twice-Told Tales. In 1841 he joined the transcendentalist Utopian community at Brook Farm, which, in 1842, he left to marry Sophia Peabody. They moved back to Salem. In a remarkable streak that lasted from 1850 to 1860, he wrote The Scarlet Letter. one of the first true best-selling novels in the United States, The House of the Seven Gables. often regarded as his greatest book, The Blithedale Romance. his only work written in the first person, and The Marble Faun. an influential collection of poetry. Hawthorne died in 1864, only a few months before the end of the Civil War. His reputation in America was so great that the most important writers of the era, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. Louisa May Alcott, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, were pallbearers at his funeral.
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Historical Context of Young Goodman Brown
The Puritans began in the 16th century as a group of English Protestants who sought to purify the Church of England of the remnants of Roman Catholicism. In 1628, John Winthrop led a group of Puritans (who were persecuted in England) from England to Massachusetts, where they hoped to create a “city upon a hill.” In the 1670s, the Puritans of Massachusetts fought one of the deadliest wars in American history against the Native Americans of southern New England. In August, 1676, the Puritans captured and beheaded the Native American leader, Metacom, also called King Philip; they interpreted their victory as a sign of God’s favor and the deadly toll as a spiritual purge of their community. In 1692 and 1693, the Puritans of Salem held the Salem witch trials, a series of hearings, prosecutions, and executions that resulted in the deaths of twenty people, mostly women, on the grounds that they practiced witchcraft. Later it was generally understood that the proceedings were the result of hysteria rather than justice or evidence.
Other Books Related to Young Goodman Brown
Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter deals with similar themes of sin and hypocrisy in a Puritan small town. Arthur Miller’s 1952 play The Crucible dramatizes the Salem witch trials (again dealing with similar themes of sin and hypocrisy) while also allegorize the 1950s black lists and Communist-outing hysteria led by Senator Eugene McCarthy. William Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation. describes conditions in Plymouth Colony from 1620 to 1657. The Puritan pastor Cotton Mather’s 1710 essay Theopholis Americana: An Essay on the Golden Street of the Holy City describes the Puritan’s dreams for a holy land in America. Jill Lepore’s nonfiction book The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity recounts the brutal 1670s war between the Puritans and the Native Americans, in which Goodman Brown’s father fought.
Key Facts about Young Goodman Brown
- Full Title: “Young Goodman Brown”
- When Written: 1835
- Where Written: Salem, Massachusetts
- When Published: 1835 and 1846
- Literary Period: American Romanticism
- Genre: Short story, allegory
- Setting: 17th century Salem, Massachusetts
- Climax: When Goodman Brown calls on Faith to resist the devil
- Antagonist: The devil, the hypocrisy of the Puritans
- Point of View: Third person
Extra Credit for Young Goodman Brown
Descendant of a witch trial judge. Hawthorne was a descendent of John Hathorne, a Puritan judge who ordered the execution of the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne added the “w” to his name to hide his shameful ancestry.
The white whale. Herman Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne.
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