Nathaniel Hawthorne

Literary Critique - Young Goodman Brown

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Photo Credit: Mathew Brady
(Wikimedia Commons)

The Forest and the Subconscious Mind

The influence of the psychologically unstable late 1600s and the Salem witch trials are present in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.”

From the viewpoint of a character such as Brown, who lived in the superstitious, devil-obsessed world of the Puritans, his behavior was justifiable. He assumed his wife was a quiet, passive woman content to stay at home as he pursued his fixations and dreams. Late one night his exploration in the woods led to more than he anticipated. Seeing his demure wife participating in what he perceived as a satanic ritual would end a romantic relationship, if not the marriage itself.

From the viewpoint of a contemporary critic, Brown’s reaction is irrational and bordering on hysteria, especially since he was seeking the same experiences and thrills that his spouse sought. People do not wander through secluded forests at night without reason. On the subconscious level, he searched for what he feared by placing himself in a situation where his buried nightmare could be realized.

Hawthorne writes, “…Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the trees, and approached the congregation, with whom he felt a loathful brotherhood, by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart.”

The forest is a symbol of the subconscious mind. His later withdrawing from the Puritan community alludes to Brown’s withdrawal from his own nightmare.