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Breaking Down The Salem Facade: Symbols, Internal Conflict, and Setting of "Young Goodman Brown"

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“Because sometimes people who seem good end up being not as good as you might have hoped. ” (Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close). Humans want to trust that our world is perfect but in doing so we may blind ourselves to the unpleasant realities of life. In the short story “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a Puritan man must battle his inner demons in order to find out more about himself. One night he is walking through the woods and encounters a devil worshipping ceremony where he sees his entire Puritan community participating. This event forces Goodman Brown to face the devil and test his faith. However, when he awakens the next morning he is unsure whether he was dreaming or if his entire town is possessed by the devil. In the story Hawthorne examines the dangers of Puritan extremism through the symbol of the devil meeting, Goodman Brown’s perceptions of right and wrong, and the setting of Salem. He ultimately shows that there are faults even within the idyllic “city on a hill”. The author of the story uses symbolism of the devil to convey interesting parallels with Puritan extremism. These polar opposite yet parallel ceremonies lift the veil on the society of Salem.

When Goodman Brown nears the satanic service, he hears the devil preaching “welcome to the communion of your race!” (Hawthorne 6). This compares to the Puritan church communion, which is the cleansing of one’s sins. In the Devil’s sermon, he is cleansingthe good puritan’s of Salem of God and faith. Additionally, Hawthorne is using this symbol to criticize both groups for feeling that a person can be only good or evil; saved or damned. Thus showing how both systems are not perfect and must accept their faults. Goodman Brown faces internal conflict as he struggles through dilemmas of right and wrong as well as dream and reality which ultimately lead him to discover more about himself. As Goodman Brown is walking through the woods with the strange sinister old man, they encounter Goodman Brown’s old teacher Goody Cloyse. Goodman Brown is surprised that his mentor has a friendly relationship with the devil and becomes even more horrified when she admits that she is a witch. He can not believe that “that old woman taught me my catechism!” (3). In this passage Hawthorne shows how Goodman Brown’s perception is changing and illustrates that he is becoming more confused as to what is right and what is wrong. He is starting to lose faith in the world and can not understand how a woman he thought he knew could change. This also provides insight into Goodman Brown and whether he can change into a devil worshipper like his teacher or stay true to his faith. As Goodman Brown walks through the village after his night in the woods he wonders if he had “ fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch meeting…” (7). Goodman Brown starts to doubt himself and whether he hallucinated the meeting or if, in fact, it was real.

Since Goodman Brown has no proof the seance happened he must come to terms with the realization that his mind could have fabricated the entire incident. He realizes that there is evil living within him, but he also understands that everyone has an inner devil who they struggle with inside them and he must accept that contradiction in order to become a better person. The setting in this short story is not what you would expect from the idyllic Puritan town which perpetuates the false facade of the “city on a hill”. As Goodman Brown is getting ready to go into the woods the audience sees that “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem village…” (1). The Village is shown to be a peaceful place and ostensibly a representation of the “city on a hill”. Hawthorne uses this language to show how unbelievable this is and makes it more surprising when the audience learns about the darkness lurking. After Goodman Brown makes a commitment to not succumb to the devil he sees that the “blue sky was still visible, except directly overhead, where this black mass of cloud was sweeping swiftly northward. ”(4) Hawthorne uses the image of the ‘black mass’ coming toward Goodman Brown to show that an evil is coming toward Salem and no matter how pure he is, it is still coming. This is an interesting moment in the story since Goodman Brown feels that his town could never be taken off its pedestal but he soon finds out what his town truly is.

The faults with the “city on a hill” are shown in Hawthorne’s story “Young Goodman Brown” because of the symbol of the devil meeting, Goodman Brown’s perceptions of right and wrong, and the setting of Salem. The meeting in the woods with the devil showed the hypocrisy of Puritan culture as well as showing the true condemned souls of the citizens of Salem. Goodman Brown is lead to discover more about himself as he questions the situations he encounters. Though the setting of Salem is presented as a perfect place to live, in reality there is a corrosive darkness lurking beneath the placid surface. In our lives, we tend to dive into situations before learning what we are getting into. Once you evaluate what you are about to do you can choose whether to accept what you have been given or go deeper and find the true meaning.

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Breaking Down the Salem Facade: Symbols, Internal Conflict, and Setting of “Young Goodman Brown”. (2019, November 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 22, 2022, from
“Breaking Down the Salem Facade: Symbols, Internal Conflict, and Setting of “Young Goodman Brown”.” GradesFixer, 26 Nov. 2019,
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Breaking Down the Salem Facade: Symbols, Internal Conflict, and Setting of “Young Goodman Brown” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Nov 26 [cited 2022 Jan 22]. Available from:
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