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Literary Devices in Young Goodman Brown

Narration and Dreamlike Structure: Dreams and dream logic play an important role in Hawthorne’s story. Even though the narrator stays close to Goodman Brown’s perspective, much of the narrative is shrouded in mystery. At the beginning, just as Goodman Brown prepares to head into the woods, Faith warns her husband that she has had a dream warning of troubling events to come. At the end of the story, as Goodman Brown emerges from his trials in the forest and returns to his life in Salem, he wonders whether his adventure was all a dream. Despite the turmoil he has experienced and the visions he has seen, there is no tangible evidence that any of it really happened. The dreamlike nature of his journey haunts him for the rest of his life.

The Use of Aptonyms: Hawthorne makes use of a literary device known as the aptonym, sometimes called the aptronym or euonym. An aptonym is a name that is particularly appropriate for the character or person to whom it belongs. Classic literary aptonyms include Shakespeare’s Harry Hotspur, James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, and Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane. Hawthorne refers to his protagonist by the title “Goodman.” While such titles as “Goodman” and “Goodwife” were the Puritan forms of “Mr.” and “Mrs.,” in this story the name underscores the moral crisis Brown faces as well as the hypocrisy of other so-called pious, “good” townspeople, like Goody Cloyse and and Goody Cory. Faith’s name is a double entendre because while she represents Goodman Brown’s connection to his Puritan faith in God, she also demonstrates the corruption of his faith when she is seen participating in the Black Mass.

Literary Devices Examples in Young Goodman Brown:

Young Goodman Brown

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"The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Hawthorne has used the forest as a symbol for sin throughout “Young Goodman Brown.” Here, by saying that the road has grown “wilder and drearier,” Hawthorne conveys a lack of order, or a promotion of discord. That the road falls into disarray and eventually vanishes completely reflects what has happened to Goodman Brown’s faith. Where once the road could take him safely back to Salem, now he has no clear path forward: Goodman Brown is a sinner.

"“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Earlier, Goodman Brown resisted the devil by believing that Faith is still pure and moral. Here, having lost his faith in his wife Faith, he has also lost faith in the world and in his own sense of morality. By claiming that his “Faith is gone,” he emphasizes the relationship between his wife and his Puritan faith. Goodman Brown’s beliefs rely on appearances and the behavior of his peers, creating an extreme ideology that doesn’t allow for nuance.

"“Faith kept me back a while,” replied the young man..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown’s reply here strongly supports the idea that Hawthorne intended Faith’s name to serve a double meaning. When Goodman Brown says that Faith “kept [him] back awhile,” he means that his wife literally made him late and also that his Puritan faith caused him to doubt his decision to enter and continue journeying into the woods.

"“You are late, Goodman Brown,” said he. “The clock of the Old South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutes agone.”..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Thus far, the woods are depicted as dangerous and scary as Goodman Brown ventures further into a place that he believes to be sinful. However, this man, whose nature will shortly be revealed, claims that he has recently come through Boston. Given his nature, this statement suggests that evil and sin are not limited to the wilderness but can also exist in settled communities, foreshadowing one of the lessons Goodman Brown will learn before the end of the tale.

"as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. ..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

The choice of words here, "dream" specifically, suggests that the rest of the story may follow in a dream-like fashion. The look on her face may foreshadow what is to come.

"as if he had vanished..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Hawthorne makes good use of the limited third-person point of view: because he is not omniscient—that is, all seeing, all knowing—he can never be certain about what he sees.  The devil's staff may or may not look like a serpent, and when the devil leaves Brown, it looks "as if" he has vanished, leaving the reader in uncertainty as to what, exactly, is going on in this narrative.

"why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

In another example of double entendre (double meaning), Goodman Brown refers both to Faith, his wife, and his faith, his Puritan belief system.

"snakelike staff..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Again, Hawthorne is creating ambiguity by not definitely telling the reader what the staff looks like.  Ambiguity is one of the primary techniques Hawthorne uses to describe Goodman Brown's journey.

"This, of course, must have been an ocular deception..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

A clever use of the limited narrator point of view. Because the narrator is never quite sure of what he observes, the reader is also never sure—perhaps it's a snake, perhaps it's not. The limited point of view creates tension between what is and what might be throughout the story.

"Faith kept me back a while..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

An example of what literary critics call double entendre, or "double meaning," because Goodman Brown is referring both to Faith, his wife, and his own Puritan faith.

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