AUTHOR: Nathaniel Hawthrone
Reading Nathaniel Hawthrone’s Young Goodman Brown reminds me of the Scribes and Pharisees in the Bible.
Just like the story of the Pharisees, the author takes the readers through how characters like the Catechist, Deacon, and the Minister preached God, exhibited themselves as religious with an outward appearance of being clean and yet their mask of righteousness hid a secret inner world of ungodly thoughts.
The temptations Young Goodman Brown faced between remaining good (faithful to God and his wife) and siding with evil as the rest, is typical of the temptations Jesus went through in the Bible, but unlike Him, the protagonist falls prey to the hunter and goes as far as judging those who preached good but practiced evil in the dark.
Set in Saleem village in the 17th century, the book addresses the weakness of public morality, hypocrisy, the belief that all humanity exists in a state of depravity and focuses on a young Puritan who undergoes life alternating experiences when he accompanies the devil to a ceremony deep in the woods.
The story starts when the protagonist (Young Goodman Brown) is setting at sunset (dusk) on an unknown journey to the forest.
Sunset here is symbolic of evil, and readers are therefore not completely surprised when he meets a strange “traveler with a snake-like staff” whom we later learn to be the devil.
Important to note is that the devil has a striking resemblance to him, and had been on a similar errand with the protagonist’s late father and grandfather.
This symbolizes that the devil is us, we are the devil, and the devil lives within us.
The story culminates into a satanic initiation, and the protagonist notices with horror that prominent members of his community like church leaders, Deacon, Catechists, and the Ministers whom he had so much bestowed respect to, are participating in the ceremony.
Shocking to note is that his dear wife Faith, whom he had left at home, was the main celebrant in the initiation.
He screams at her to “resist the devil” and he finds himself alone in the evil forest.
Had the whole thing been a wretched dream?
Be it so, he returns home but loses forever his faith in not only the church leaders and his wife, but also in goodness and piety as well.
The book’s overriding themes are hypocrisy and good vs. evil, clearly depicted by the Church leaders who preached the gospel but didn’t practice it.
A case in point is when the Deacon tells the Minster that “Of the two…I had rather miss an ordination dinner than tonight’s meeting.”
This implies that despite being church leaders, they so much value evil that they would rather miss an important church ceremony and attend the latter.
The devil himself confesses to young Goodman Brown during the initiation that; “There are all whom ye have reverenced from youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your sin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerful aspirations heavenward. Yet here are they all in my worshipping assembly. This night it shall be granted you to know their secret deeds..”
The protagonist himself later gets consumed by evil, and resorts to despising and judging the religious leaders.
An instance is when he snatches away a child from the Catechist’s hands, and even refuses to greet his wife.
Doesn’t his bible teach him to dine with sinners like Jesus and not judge them?
Despite being set in the 17th Century, the book embodies timelessness in the way the themes it tackles are still relevant in our contemporary society.
For instance, devil worship, atheism, pretense/hypocrisies are rampant not only in societies but also in religious orbits.
It was a short and effective reread for me since the author employed thrilling themes and complex symbolism, and kept me on the verge of wanting to know what happened next.
It’s a must-read for everyone, but most especially to those who are on the verge of losing their faith.
You can also read: BOOK REVIEW: Tenants of the House