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Faith or Face?


Young Goodman Brown” is short story about a young Puritan man who sets out on a journey through the forest to witness a witch ceremony, leaving his wife, Faith. He must resist the devil’s temptation and return to her at sunrise, as promised. On his journey Brown experiences events that alter his way of thinking forever. This story is centered around the concept of Faith. Faith is used to show the extent to which religion can become the driving force in one’s life. Faith is defined as an “unquestionable belief in and loyalty to God” (Guralmick 502). Faith can control one’s behavior and manipulate one’s mind in the same way that one’s extreme face or pride can. Goodman let his excessive pride in himself destroy his relationship with his wife and community, and his ability to worship God.


Goodman Brown goes into the woods to meet with the devil, therefore, he is questioning his faith from the start. He steps away from his faith for a short period of time to go on his journey saying that, “After this one night, I’ll cling to her (Faith) skirts and follow her to Heaven” (Hawthorne 1). This is one example where Goodman’s excessive pride comes in to play. He feels that he can do this sinful deed because he promised himself he would repent afterwards. When his companion, the devil, alerts him of his late arrival Brown replies, “Faith kept me back awhile” (Hawthorne 1). This can be taken as his faith to God delayed his meeting to the devil, but his pride allowed him to go. As he gets deeper into the forest, Goodman Brown’s faith begins to lessen. He doubts that he will be able to resist temptation. He shows his faith by saying, “My father never went into the woods… nor did his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians, since the days of the martyrs” (Hawthorne 2). Then the devil lessens Brown’s faith by replying, “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. (Hawthorne 2). Brown still stands by his faith even after the devil informs him of his doings with the deacon.


Brown sees his old catechism teacher, Goody Cloyse, befriending the devil and speaking of witchery. She accepts the devil’s staff and continues through the woods to the communion. Young Goodman Brown’s faith is not destroyed yet. He shows his faith is stronger than ever when he refused to go on and he says, “With Heaven above and faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil” (Hawthorne 5). Goodman’s pride begins to build as he thinks about how strong he is for refusing the devil’s temptations. When Goodman hears Deacon Gookin discussing the communion, he “looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was a Heaven above him” (Hawthorne 5). This is where Goodman experiences his epiphany. After believing he hears Faith, his wife’s, voice and sees her pink ribbon flying through the air, Brown loses all faith and says that there is “no good on earth” (Hawthorne 5). Goodman then believes he is strong enough to overcome and destroy evil. He again exercises his arrogance by saying, “Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devil himself. You may as well fear him as he fear you” (Hawthorne 6). When Goodman witnesses the communion and his wife, Faith, participating in its evil involvement he is overcome with a feeling of hopelessness. Goodman feels Faith is now evil just like the rest of the townspeople.


When Brown returns to the village he definitely shows not only his loss of faith but his extreme arrogance. He shows disgust toward the minister, his old catechism teacher and even his wife. He believes he is better than his community and is the only one who isn’t a devil worshiper. Goodman showed his arrogance and excessive pride when he ignored the Deacon and his Faith’s greetings and snatched the small child away from Goody Cloyse. Goodman still assumes that his community has a monopoly on virtue. When the devil is explaining the wrong doings of his ancestors, Goodman doesn’t understand that as long as his own people are unkind toward those who do not conform to the Puritan idea of goodness, they serve the devil every day of their lives. He naively believed that his fellow Puritans were actually “pure”. The possibility that destroying the villages of Indians, or burning witches, could be evil never occurred to him. He believed that it was simply what “good” Christians did. After witnessing the witch’s communion, Goodman refused to cry. His lack of tears shows that he has no pity or compassion for the sinners; therefore, he cannot be a true Christian himself. If he followed his heart, as Christians should, he would have been able to forgive and sympathize with the townspeople, but instead, he listened to his pride and isolated himself from them.

Unable to accept the idea that the potential for evil lies in everyone, even himself, Goodman chose his own damnation and loss of faith. It is his pride in himself that keeps him from seeing his own faults. Think about it, what was Goodman doing in the forest? The same thing all the other townspeople were doing. Did Goodman actually lose his faith? If he had true faith would he have questioned the existence of Heaven and God? It was his pride that kept him isolated from his community. Brown dies a lonely and miserable death; buried with “no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom” (Hawthorne 9). This story shows clearly that faith is not manifested in actions, but in ideas.

 

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