The Delusions of Young Goodman Brown
The story, “Young Goodman Brown”, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a work of art. If one were blessed with infinite time and access to the author, along with all of his influences, one could ascertain the original intent that drove Hawthorne to craft such an intricate tale. Unfortunately, such resources are not available to anyone; that being the case, art must be defined in the terms that make the most sense to the onlooker. The result is an infinite amount of interpretations, all filtered through the variables of the person experiencing the work. The particular translation that this paper will validate, is that Young Goodman Brown did not leave his home to meet with Satan, rather that he set forth to confront certain aspects of himself that he could not accept being a part of the man he viewed himself to be.
In order to fully realize the theory, groundwork must be laid out. Fortunately, Neo-Freudian psychiatrist, Carl Jung, spent the majority of his career exploring and theorizing about the makeup and motivations of the human mind. D.J. Moores notes that, Jung disagreed with Freud’s claim that the subconscious is mostly driven by libido. (Moores) D.J. Moores also tells us that Jung believed that there exists a shadow behind a person’s conscious mind. (Moores) This shadow is comprised of the aspects of oneself which are repressed by the society one exists in and the standards to which one holds oneself. In a rigidly Puritanical society, such as the one Young Goodman Brown finds himself in at the onset of the story, the pressures to be prudent and morally beyond reproach would be quite oppressive. To summarize, a confrontation with Young Goodman Brown’s own shadow, is the destination that our protagonist leaves his faith behind to visit in the woods.
An examination of the specific aspects of Young Goodman Brown’s departure from his wife, “Faith”, lends a fair amount of depth to this allegorical perspective. From the onset Faith attempts to dissuade Young Goodman Brown from his task. If one considers Faith’s role as that of Young Goodman Brown’s faith, then the following passage holds an entirely different connotation.
‘"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, "prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeard of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year."’(Hawthorne)
Young Goodman Brown’s faith is aware of his meeting with his shadow, at least on any level as faith could be, for faith is not known for being the most informed of motivations. One may ask, “Why would he set off on this quest to confront his shadow; he seems happy with his faith?” D.J. Moores tells us that, The answer from a Jungian perspective is that Goodman Brown is in fact seeking himself his lost/unwanted parts, the psychic energies he keeps locked in the dungeon of the unconscious because they threaten to overwhelm his Calvinistic value system, which has no room for darkness, shadow, and "evil."(Moores) The urge for internal completion is what drives Young Goodman Brown into the woods that night, in spite of the happiness his faith offers him.
The following passage is a reflection by Young Goodman Brown after he has already left his faith behind.
‘"Poor little Faith!" thought he, for his heart smote him. "What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; 't would kill her to think it. Well, she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven."’(Hawthorne)
Of the several relevant points displayed in the previous passage, the first is how he refers to his faith as “little”; almost as if he is acknowledging that it is insufficient for her to solely support him, absent the meeting he is en route to. Young Goodman Brown feels the guilt of leaving behind his faith in this pursuit, calling himself a “wretch.” This is further evidence of the deterioration of his already compromised Puritanical values. Paul Hurley presents the idea that this endeavor would result in the death of his faith, were he successful; sidestepping this reality Young Goodman Brown is under the impression that his distance from his faith will only be temporary. (Hurley) When viewed from the Jungian school of thought, this is quite an elegant little piece of foreshadowing. Paul Hurley agrees that, the irony in this passage lies in the idea that once Young Goodman Brown has finished with his confrontation with his shadow that he will return to his faith and earn access to heaven by merely clinging to her skirts. This mindset does not sound like a faithful Puritan, who believes that his virtues and good deeds will gain him passage through the pearly gates. (Hurley) Perhaps, he is aware of the folly of this spiritual attitude on a subconscious level and that doubt feeds his shadow all the more.
Young Goodman Brown’s meeting with the Devil is full of telltale signs that this is his own personal devil. The choosing of Satan to represent Young Goodman Brown’s shadow is not a farfetched one.” Satan, according to Jungian theory, is Christianity's shadow; he is all the religion refuses to tolerate.” (Moores) One of the indicators that this particular vision is a product of a tormented mind is the resemblance the figure bears to Young Goodman Brown. Hawthorne describes him as a man who is, “apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in expression than features. Still they might have been taken for father and son.” (Hawthorne} All obvious similarities aside, the specification of the parallels in expression lend weight to the theory that this man is an aspect of Young Goodman Brown’s mind.
The inclusion of the various townsfolk represents the Jungian aspect of projection. Jung wrote. "Hence one meets with projections, one does not make them" The surprise meeting of persons to whom his moral standing was of great import is evidence that his shadow was attempting to rationalize with him by showing that even these great moral beacons in his life, his deacon, his bishop, his wife, and even the woman who taught him the catechism, were capable of evil.
Young Goodman Brown’s refusal to participate in the ritual and merge with his shadow left him in a desolate position, aware of his shadow yet unable to accept it Young Goodman Brown sought the only refuge of a mind faced with a reality it cannot handle, the projection of its own flaws onto those around it. Thus, Young Goodman Brown’s rejection of the rest of his village and wife was nothing more than the result of a failed merging with the inescapable parallel that lay behind all of his noble aspirations.
Moores, D.J. "Young Goodman Brown's 'evil purpose': Hawthorne and the Jungian shadow." Journal of Evolutionary Psychology 27.3-4 (2005): 4+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.
Hurley, Paul J. "Young Goodman Brown's 'Heart of Darkness'." American Literature 37.4 (Jan. 1966): 410-419. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 29. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Apr. 2011.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” 40 Short Stories. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009, 1-11. Print.