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Example research essay topic: Young Goodman Brown - 1,242 words

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"Young Goodman Brown", by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is a story that is thick with allegory. "Young Goodman Brown" is a moral story which is told through the perversion of a religious leader. In "Young Goodman Brown", Goodman Brown is a Puritan minister who lets his excessive pride in himself interfere with his relations with the community after he meets with the devil, and causes him to live the life of an exile in his own community. "Young Goodman Brown" begins when Faith, Brown's wife, asks him not to go on an "errand". Goodman Brown says to his "love and (my) Faith" that "this one night I must tarry away from thee." When he says his "love" and his "Faith", he is talking to his wife, but he is also talking to his "faith" to God. He is venturing into the woods to meet with the Devil, and by doing so, he leaves his unquestionable faith in God with his wife. He resolves that he will "cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven." This is an example of the excessive pride because he feels that he can sin and meet with the Devil because of this promise that he made to himself.

There is a tremendous irony to this promise because when Goodman Brown comes back at dawn; he can no longer look at his wife with the same faith he had before. When Goodman Brown finally meets with the Devil, he declares that the reason he was late was because "Faith kept me back awhile." This statement has a double meaning because his wife physically prevented him from being on time for his meeting with the devil, but his faith to God psychologically delayed his meeting with the devil. The Devil had with him a staff that "bore the likeness of a great black snake". The staff which looked like a snake is a reference to the snake in the story of Adam and Eve. The snake led Adam and Eve to their destruction by leading them to the Tree of Knowledge. The Adam and Eve story is similar to Goodman Brown in that they are both seeking unfathomable amounts of knowledge.

Once Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge they were expelled from their paradise. The Devil's staff eventually leads Goodman Brown to the Devil's ceremony which destroys Goodman Brown's faith in his fellow man, therefore expelling him from his utopia. Goodman Brown almost immediately declares that he kept his meeting with the Devil and no longer wishes to continue on his errand with the Devil. He says that he comes from a "race of honest men and good Christians" and that his father had never gone on this errand and nor will he. The Devil is quick to point out however that he was with his father and grandfather when they were flogging a woman or burning an Indian village, respectively. These acts are ironic in that they were bad deeds done in the name of good, and it shows that he does not come from "good Christians." When Goodman Brown's first excuse not to carry on with the errand proves to be unconvincing, he says he can't go because of his wife, "Faith".

And because of her, he can not carry out the errand any further. At this point the Devil agrees with him and tells him to turn back to prevent that "Faith should come to any harm" like the old woman in front of them on the path. Ironically, Goodman Brown's faith is harmed because the woman on the path is the woman who "taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual adviser." The Devil and the woman talk and afterward, Brown continues to walk on with the Devil in the disbelief of what he had just witnessed. Ironically, he blames the woman for consorting with the Devil but his own pride stops him from realizing that his faults are the same as the woman's. Brown again decides that he will no longer to continue on his errand and rationalizes that just because his teacher was not going to heaven, why should he "quit my dear Faith, and go after her". At this, the Devil tosses Goodman Brown his staff (which will lead him out of his Eden) and leaves him.

Goodman Brown begins to think to himself about his situation and his pride in himself begins to build. He "applauds himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet his minister...And what calm sleep would be his...in the arms of Faith!" This is ironic because at the end of the story, he can not even look Faith in the eye, let alone sleep in her arms. As Goodman Brown is feeling good about his strength in resisting the Devil, he hears the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin. He overhears their conversation and hears them discuss a "goodly young woman to be taken in to communion" that evening at that night's meeting and fears that it may be his Faith. When Goodman Brown hears this he becomes weak and falls to the ground. He "begins to doubt whether there really was a Heaven above him" and this is a key point when Goodman Brown's faith begins to wain.

Goodman Brown in panic declares that "With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" Again, Brown makes a promise to keep his faith unto God. Then "a black mass of cloud" goes in between Brown and the sky as if to block his prayer from heaven. Brown then hears what he believed to be voices that he has before in the community. Once Goodman Brown begins to doubt whether this is really what he had heard or not, the sound comes to him again and this time it is followed by "one voice, of a young woman". Goodman believes this is Faith and he yells out her name only to be mimicked by the echoes of the forest, as if his calls to Faith were falling on deaf ears. A pink ribbon flies through the air and Goodman grabs it.

At this moment, he has lost all faith in the world and declares that there is "no good on earth." Young Goodman Brown in this scene is easily manipulated simply by the power of suggestion. The suggestion that the woman in question is his Faith, and because of this, he easily loses his faith. Goodman Brown then loses all of his inhibitions and begins to laugh insanely. He takes hold of the staff which causes him to seem to "fly along the forest-path". This image alludes to that of Adam and Eve being led out of the Garden of Eden as is Goodman Brown being led out of his utopia by the Devil's snakelike staff. Hawthorne at this point remarks about "the instinct that guides mortal man to evil".

This is a direct statement from the author that he believes that man's natural inclination is to lean to evil than good. Goodman Brown had at this point lost his faith in God, therefore there was nothing restraining his instincts from moving towards evil because he had been lead out from his utopian image of society. At this point, Goodman Brown goes mad and challenges evil. He feels that he will be the downfall of evil and that he ....

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