Life of the English Puritans in new homeland in the 16th and 18th centuries was perfectly described by Nathaniel Hawthorne in Young Goodman Brown. He was particularly interested in issues of faith and morals of strict Calvinists, tragic conflicts that occur in the souls of heroes, which was the arena of competition between the natural feelings and harsh Puritan principles, understanding of all human – love, desire of happiness, joy, etc. as sinful. Hawthorne was the master among other romantics in showing the difficult psychology of characters – those who lived in the old Salem or Concord, and their descendants, contemporaries of the writer.
Hawthorne belonged to the old Puritan family himself; his distant ancestor was a judge at the infamous Salem process of witches. Hawthorne for life kept the interest in the psychology of Puritanism and he made his characters either first Puritans-settlers or people with Puritan roots. Often the theme of his works is the fight of a limited puritanical philosophy and human impulses.
Righteous Brown, the main character in the novel Young Goodman Brown, leaves his wife as he thinks in a safe environment among the Puritans, and begins nightly pilgrimage to the forest, going towards the temptation of knowledge that turned for him as a disbelief in faith – both in his wife and in his own spirituality. Brown begins his path at sunset that hints at the dubious nature of his intentions. The image of the forest trail becomes for Brown both wanderings in the depths of his own soul, and the study of his own human nature, and the search of true principles of his spirituality and faith. In the thicket of Puritan Eden and Puritan soul this path is becoming narrower, more tortuous and terrible.
Ruined Eden becomes a grotesque parody of prayer, creation, expression of vile instincts, and unrestrained conscious fall of hypocritical Puritan community.
Brown’s worldview as the Puritan outlook in general is based on a clear polarization of good and evil, black and white, but the night in the forest messes up the colors, turning righteous Brown into harsh, sad, gloomy thinker, a distrustful, if not desperate, man. Brown’s despair and despondency is the result of his own sin. Hawthorne narration creates a feeling of ambivalence and uncertainty of human life, even when it occurs in the locus of Eden. Initiation enriched Brown only with partial knowledge, which incompleteness doesn’t allow him feel wise or happy. Hawthorne’s novel suggests that epistemological doubt becomes an obstacle for the implementation of a truly Eden existence.
Life of the English Puritans in new homeland in the 16th and 18th centuries was perfectly described by Nathaniel Hawthorne in Young Goodman Brown.