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Ignorance and Cynicism

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Ignorance and Cynicism

One of the common characteristics found in much of Hawthorne's work is ambiguity with respect to themes. The short story "Young Goodman Brown" is no different. Throughout the story it seems that Hawthorne has multiple messages he is trying to convey, some of which contradict previous messages in the narrative. In "Young Goodman Brown" Hawthorne spends a great deal of the time illustrating the hypocrisy of the ranking members of the Catholic Church. Toward the end of the story he seems to re-evaluate his position, focusing on the importance of religion in each person's life. Whatever the case, Hawthorne uses the knowledge bestowed on Goodman Brown as a medium through which he can give the reader his opinions.

Brown's education at the hands of the devil begins as soon as he enters the forest. Like most people at the time, Brown's faith is based entirely on the actions and lessons of town elders, and more importantly, his ancestors. It is through this faith that he finds the initial strength to resist the devil saying, "We have been a race of good Christians since the days of the martyrs." The devil disproves this, citing examples, informing Goodman Brown of the atrocities that his ancestors committed in spite of their faith. As he progresses through the forest Goodman Brown learns that not only was his faith in his ancestors unfounded, many of the people from his town whom he believed to be good Christians were also in league with the devil. Slowly, the Devil discredits nearly everyone that Goodman Brown trusted. He is left with one last symbol of his faith, his wife. It is at this point that Goodman Brown realizes that his wife has been taken, and he reaches the conclusion that the Devil has been leading him to: "There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name." He finally realizes that sin resides in every man, including himself. When Brown enters the clearing at the climax of the story he sees many of the people he grew up admiring, confirming his previous recognition of the fact that there is no one that is truly free of sin.

When Brown finally leaves the forest he has undergone a profound change. His character, first described as a young newly married man full of faith and happiness, has lost his innocence. When he emerges from the forest he is a husk of the man he once was. Even after he acknowledges that his experience may have been a dream, he has lost his blind faith in the people around him. When he looks at the people he once cared about, all he can focus on is the potential evil that resides in each of them. Because of this, he lives out the rest of his life as a cynic, suspicious of everyone around him. Even his wife, who once stood as a symbol of his faith, has been sullied by the "knowledge" imparted by the devil. He is slowly consumed by his insecurities and pushes away anyone close



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