The word “allegory” has a Greek origin and means “other-speaking”. Allegory is “the way in which something has to be understood other than what is literally said” (Harland). The first example of allegory comes from the interpretation of Homer’s passage. Christians also began to see some meaning in different things. For example, St. Paul found a hidden meaning in an episode from the Old Testament. Then, Alexandrian theologians developed strategies of allegorical interpretation. Texts of Virgil began to be interpreted by Clement and Origen of Alexandria. During the Middle Ages, writing in the form of commentaries became very popular. People got the opportunity to interpret texts according to their views, as the text was not bounded and there could be as many meanings as there were people. Both secular and sacred texts were interpreted allegorically, as allegorical meaning could be found both in old and contemporary examples of art and literature. Allegory has been a way of illustrating ideas and things.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of the greatest American writers; his works are full of symbols and allegorical elements. He explored the themes of sin and guilt. In his short story Young Goodman Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne uses allegory extensively. The main symbols of this story are: young Goodman Brown himself, his wife Faith, the forest, and Salem. The forest symbolizes the human test of courage, endurance, and strength. The forest changes people, as it makes them become more mature and thus leads to the right conclusions. The forest represents the dark world of Goodman Brown’s unconscious and, accordingly, the evil. It is also not surprising that Nathaniel Hawthorne decided to set the story in Salem, because his great-great uncle was a judge in witchcraft trials there. The setting of the story implies that the heart of the main hero will be corrupted by the evil forces. The characters, setting and plot of the story represent such concepts as evil, innocence, and faith, because allegory is a form of metaphor, when characters of the story or novel personify some abstract ideas.
Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, plays an important role in the story. She is the light in her husband’s life and keeps him from evil deeds. In the story, Brown even said that Faith kept him back awhile. Faith has a religious meaning of Christian faith and everything which is good and virtuous. Consequently, it is natural that the name of the main hero’s wife is Faith. She represents a pure soul, and the pink ribbon in her hair is the symbol of heavenly faith. The marriage of the main hero is the symbol of Brown’s desire to be a good person and to see the good in people.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story is an allegory itself, since it shows readers that it is dangerous to doubt the Christian faith even for one day and take the unjust way. The author of the story presented symbols in such a way that their meaning should be very clear to readers.
The process of gradual corruption of Brown’s heart by the devil forces is shown in the change of the day to the night. Brown begins his journey into the woods when the sun sets and it gets darker till the outcome of the story, when the main hero loses his faith in God and in people, who surround him. He does not believe anymore that people in his village are good and virtuous and he tends to find negative aspects about them.
The author of the story wants to bring readers to the idea that the people who live without God are lonely and their life is not happy and joyful. He shows this with the help of the woods description, where ways are dark and tangled, and it is hard to see. The path which Goodman Brown takes is dark, dull, and narrow. The dreariness and darkness are symbols of the hidden evil, which one can find in the forest. The narrowness of the path means that the main hero is surrounded by evil, and Hawthorne implies the idea that young Brown may never become innocent again. He shows it with the help of the scene when the woods close behind him: “He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind” (Hawthorne).
In the forest, Goodman Brown meets a character, who is later called the elder Goodman Brown because of his resemblance to the young Goodman Brown. Brown’s new companion stands for the devil and represents the dark side of the main hero’s soul. The devil is an allegory for the main hero’s disposition to evil, which he inherited from his ancestors. The walking stick of the devil has a form of a snake. It presupposes that the elder Goodman Brown is a cunning character, and readers can have an association with the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve was tempted by the snake.
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The Young Goodman Brown is abundant in allegories. With the help of this device, Nathaniel Hawthorne masterfully showed that people have both good and dark sides to them. It depends on a person what side to choose, and when someone chooses the wrong way, it is hard to find the right one again. The evil can be hidden where one least expects to find it.