The Compulsion Toward Evil in Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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The Compulsion Toward Evil in “Young Goodman Brown”

It is the intention of this essay to demonstrate the compulsion toward gross evil in “Young Goodman Brown” that is indicated by the actions of the characters, a compulsion that includes not only the leading characters but virtually everyone in the tale.

In Salem village that fateful night when the young Puritan husband was departing home for the night, he exchanged “a parting kiss with his young wife.” The wind was playing with “the pink ribbons of her cap.” Literary critic Wagenknecht surveys some of the critical interpretation relative to these ribbons on Faith’s cap and how they convey a message from Hawthorne:

Mathews finds the pastel of infancy in
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"Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem. And it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's War. They were my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you, for their sake."

Shortly thereafter Goodman is shown Goody Cloyse, his old catechism teacher en route to the witch-meeting, and immediately thereafter he is confronted with: "Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!" replied the solemn old tones of the minister. "Spur up, or we shall be late. Nothing can be done, you know, until I get on the ground." Brown’s faith in the goodness of humanity has nearly been extinguished.

When the ribbon from Faith’s cap flutters down into his sight, Goodman Brown forfeits his last bit of faith and his conversion to evil appears to be complete:

But something fluttered lightly down through the air, and caught on the

branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.

"My Faith is gone!" cried he, after one stupefied
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