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Symbols in Young Goodman Brown

Symbols of Color and Light: In order to emphasize many themes, Hawthorne incorporates symbols into his short story. The woods itself is perhaps the most prominent symbol because it represents a place away from the boundaries of civilization. Here, the townspeople shed their Puritanical masks. The dim and obscuring light in the woods highlights the mysterious nature of Goodman Brown’s experience. Once the Black Mass begins, the dark woods burst with red flashes of light, suggesting the wild, chaotic nature of the Satanic processions. Faith’s pink ribbon also serves as a powerful symbol. While at first it may represent naiveté, it takes on a darker connotation, suggesting a loss of innocence when Goodman Brown finds it in the woods after witnessing his wife take part in the Black Mass.

Symbols Examples in Young Goodman Brown:

Young Goodman Brown

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"In the interval of silence he stole forward until the light glared full upon his eyes...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Contrasted against the overall sense of darkness in the woods, the Black Mass is characterized by the blaze of a glaring red light. The imagery of the light bridges the gap between Puritanism and Satanism because it mimics the candles at an evening church service. The red blaze symbolizes the Puritanical image of hell.

"The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Faith’s pink ribbon takes on several meanings throughout the story. Initially, the pink represented a sense of playfulness and joviality. However, now that Goodman Brown has witnessed his wife take part in the devil’s ceremony, it comes to represent a loss in innocence as it flutters into the sky.

"This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Hawthorne casts doubt on the reliability of the dream-like narration of the story through the use of light imagery. In the woods, the light is dim, hazy, and dark. Since the woods are cloaked in shadows, the reader can never be entirely certain if what Goodman Brown sees is real.

"They did so; and, by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, trembling before that unhallowed altar...."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Having placed so much of his faith in his wife, the climax of the story begins when Goodman Brown confronts his greatest fear: that his Faith (in both senses of the word) is corrupt. Also of note here is the atmosphere: Goodman Brown sees his Faith through the light of “hell-kindled torches.” This suggests that the light is not only evil but also supernatural. What Goodman Brown actually sees, therefore, may not necessarily be accurate. Instead of seeing a nuanced, complicated person capable of a mixture of good and evil, Brown can only see through his binary Puritan lens, which casts everything that is not completely righteous in a hellish light.

"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.

"my broomstick..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Her description, the fact that she is muttering a "prayer," and the mention of a broom are all allusions to the image of a witch.

"gloomiest trees of the forest..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Goodman Brown's journey into the forest is all the more puzzling because the forest represents true physical danger. No Puritan villager, under normal circumstances, would voluntarily enter the forest alone and at night—too many dangers, including Native Americans, lurked in the forest.

"pink ribbons..."   (Young Goodman Brown)

Faith's ribbons are a symbol of purity that becomes crucial to the unfolding of Goodman Brown's journey into the forest.

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