THE DEEP ONES: "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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THE DEEP ONES: "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Editat: jul. 1, 2016, 4:11pm

I'll be reading this one out of the 2010 themed anthology Sympathy for the Devil, which I recently checked out of the local public library primarily for the Charles Stross story "Snowball's Chance" and Jeffrey Ford's "On the Road to New Egypt."

jul. 1, 2016, 4:11pm

Rereading this in The Portable Hawthorne.

>1 KentonSem:

The second link under "ONLINE VERSIONS" is actually a link to the picture you posted. Did you perhaps mean to post the link below instead?

jul. 1, 2016, 4:22pm

>2 paradoxosalpha:

If you haven't already, you should read Stephen King's "The Man in the Black Suit" in there while you've got that one out. King wrote it as an homage to "Young Goodman Brown", and it's an excellent story to boot.

jul. 1, 2016, 4:40pm

>4 artturnerjr:

I did read it. It will make my reread of the Hawthorne that much more interesting, I suppose. I haven't read "Young Goodman Brown" for about thirty years.

jul. 1, 2016, 7:00pm

>5 paradoxosalpha:

Yeah, I don't think I've read it since I was in college, so it's been almost that long for me, too.

jul. 1, 2016, 7:59pm

I've read "Young Goodman Brown" at least twice in the past decade because it's in American Fantastic Tales and the Tartarus Press Hawthorne collection The Snow-Image and Other Stories of the Supernatural (I noticed the title is the touchstone is slightly different, but I followed the links back to my own LT entry for the book. I assume that at least two different books have been combined).

I think I remember a comic book adaptation from the 1980s, or a reprint from an older Underground comic, but a cursory internet search didn't turn up what this might have been.

jul. 1, 2016, 11:20pm

>3 artturnerjr:

Yep. Fixed.

jul. 2, 2016, 3:41am

I suddenly feel young - thirty years ago I hadn't learnt to read.

I'm coming pretty blank to this, never having read anything by Hawthorne before as I can recall.

jul. 2, 2016, 7:24am

Editat: jul. 6, 2016, 10:37am

So, if I read this right, the key sentence of the story is this:
Herein did the shape of evil dip his hand and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be of their own.
At the story's end, it is evident that this fate is not one from which Brown has rescued himself. The "mark of baptism" was evidently a sealing gesture, perhaps conferring benefits, while the cost had already been paid by dint of Brown's presence at the sabbat and witness of his community's corruption.

Hawthorne is curiously explicit that it really makes no difference whether the entire rite took place in Brown's fancy, or whether there had "actually" been such an event. The effect on the young man is the same, and as durable. This conceit is to some degree carried forward into the "Young Goodman Brown" homage by Stephen King, "The Man in the Black Suit," where the speaker has a youthful confrontation with the Devil in a wood, which may have been a dream, the memory of which infects the time of his elderly demise. But King, strangely, offers physical evidence, as well as a consensus between the speaker and his father that there had been some palpable presence encountered.

jul. 6, 2016, 12:31pm

I read it rather as a parable of the power of suspicion - the mere thought of the deacon et al. being involved in such deviltry was enough to undermine Brown's faith in his fellow men for the rest of his life, without the need for any actual deviltry. It doesn't matter if he really visited the witch's sabbath or simply dreamt it because the seed of suspicion is effective irrespective of its origin.

jul. 6, 2016, 1:11pm

To 21st century eyes, Brown might be seen to have had a mental breakdown, leaving him delusional and paranoid. What the psychological/chemical causes or social stressors would have been, it's hard to tell from the story. On the other hand, why not deviltry? It would almost have to have permeated just about the entire town, though. Still, the likes of Rosemary's Baby have taught us that the idea might not be too far off the mark!

This story is also mirrored in the film The Witch (2106), with it's ambiguous - but just as frenetically shocking - finale.

>11 paradoxosalpha:

I can't really think of an instance in King's work in which he used the "or was it all a dream" strategy. With him, the monsters are always real, even if they are sometimes all too human. I might have to go back and revisit "The Man in the Black Suit" and compare it to this one.

jul. 6, 2016, 3:11pm

>11 paradoxosalpha:
>12 AndreasJ:

I read it as an admixture of these two interpretations, as I understand them. As though the deviltry was precisely the coming of suspicion and yes, loss of Faith. I found that intrusion of suspicion to be more than the inadvisable ruminations of Brown, however, not something he brought on himself or created himself. It is uncertain whether the coming was in the literal or merely the figurative arrival of the man upon the road: in any case, it is deviltry.

Given all the references and allusions to Colonial religion and Christianity, I am tempted to read it as a seed planted in worship: perhaps hypocrisy, perhaps literalism. But I took this backdrop of prayer and good Christian living to be more than irony. It is part of the deviltry itself.

jul. 6, 2016, 3:56pm

Funny, I don't see how >12 AndreasJ: differs from >11 paradoxosalpha:.

jul. 6, 2016, 8:00pm

>15 paradoxosalpha:

So I went back to re-read those posts, and ascertained the difference is precisely in the separate assumptions I used for reading each, which is to say: the difference is in my head.

I was perhaps channeling Goodman Brown in this respect.

Editat: jul. 6, 2016, 8:28pm

So... here's my brief initial reaction upon rereading the story. In mythological terms, this is a tale of katabasis - a descent into the underworld. Quoth Wikipedia:

The hero or upper-world deity journeys to the underworld or to the land of the dead and returns, often with a quest-object or a loved one, or with heightened knowledge.*

YGB returns with knowledge, all right, but atypically for the hero's journey, it does not aid him, but instead destroys his life. This anticipates a central motif of Lovecraft's work, after a fashion - the search for knowledge ending in disaster. As theologian and HPL scholar Robert M. Price puts it in his introduction to The New Lovecraft Circle:

One seeks forbidden knowledge, whether wittingly or, more likely, unwittingly, but one may not know till it is too late... The knowledge, once gained, is too great for the mind of man. It is Promethean, Faustian knowledge. Knowledge that destroys in the moment of enlightenment, a Gnosis of damnation, not of salvation.

The question that remains, for me, is this: what knowledge, exactly, is YGB seeking? Here's a theory: YGB, three months married, is searching for knowledge about how to perform with his young wife sexually. American Christians, then as now, not being big fans of sex ed, are not helpful in this regard - this is seen as being outside of the Church's purview. Therefore, YGB has to go over to the other side, as it were, to procure this knowledge. This view of Satan as a source of sexual knowledge is reinforced by the story's depiction of him bearing a staff resembling a snake (nice double phallic symbol, that (it also, probably not coincidentally, recalls the Rod of Asclepius**)).


ETA: Oh yeah - what's the first thing that Satan says to YGB after scolding him for being late? He asks YGB to take his staff, that's what. Hmm...

Editat: jul. 6, 2016, 8:40pm

>17 artturnerjr:


(All of that mixing it up with the sweet old lady who catechized him, too. The Devil knows her well enough.)

Editat: jul. 7, 2016, 2:04am

>15 paradoxosalpha:

I may have misread you, but I took you as saying Brown had gained actual insight in the sinfulness of others, whereas on my reading his suspicions may be perfectly groundless. In the terms of >17 artturnerjr:, I'm not sure any knowledge, forbidden or otherwise, was gained.

jul. 7, 2016, 9:12am

>19 AndreasJ:

"More conscious of" doesn't require the actuality of the perceived object. I don't think we disagree.

jul. 7, 2016, 11:12am

>20 paradoxosalpha:

No, we then seem to agree in all essentials.

jul. 8, 2016, 9:27pm

For some nagging reason I can't quite articulate, I thought Hawthorne was playing off the story of the Fall with Goodman Brown playing the Eve role. He's tempted by the Devil (with trees around though that's in keeping with the forbidding New England landscape figuring large in the American Puritan mind), initially expresses doubt, and Faith shows up to implicitly endorse his bad decision. And the story ends with damnation and new awareness of a fallen world (though it was always fallen in terms of the piety of the villagers). Psychically, Brown is pushed out of his "paradise".

>17 artturnerjr: You might be right about the sexual angle but not in the sense of sexual ignorance. Puritans were big on the female orgasm and, for their time, relatively frank in sexual matters. See and

jul. 8, 2016, 10:06pm

>22 RandyStafford:

Puritans were big on the female orgasm and, for their time, relatively frank in sexual matters. See and

Wow, that's fascinating. It's also echoed by these passages from the Wikipedia article on Puritans*:

In modern usage, the word "puritan" is often used to describe someone who adheres to strict, joyless moral or religious principles. In this usage, hedonism and puritanism are antonyms. In fact, Puritans embraced sexuality but placed it in the context of marriage. Peter Gay writes of the Puritans' standard reputation for "dour prudery" as a "misreading that went unquestioned in the nineteenth century", commenting how unpuritanical they were in favour of married sexuality, and in opposition to the Catholic veneration of virginity, citing Edward Taylor and John Cotton. One Puritan settlement in Western Massachusetts banished a husband and sent him into exile because he refused to fulfill his marital duties to his wife.


Bounds were not set on enjoying sexuality within the bounds of marriage, as a gift from God. In fact, spouses were disciplined if they did not perform their sexual marital duties, in accordance with 1 Corinthians 7 and other biblical passages. Women and men were equally expected to fulfill marital responsibilities. Women and men could file for divorce based on this issue alone. In Massachusetts colony, which had some of the most liberal colonial divorce laws, one out of every six divorce petitions was filed on the basis on male impotence.

Thanks for enlightening me. :)


jul. 8, 2016, 11:42pm

>22 RandyStafford:, >23 artturnerjr: a "misreading that went unquestioned in the nineteenth century"

... by writers such as Hawthorne. I still find Art's reading persuasive.

jul. 9, 2016, 8:45pm

If they are real witches they "get away" with it (and also - surprisingly?- take no overt action against Goodman Brown, presumably the only-non-witch among them). If they are not witches but the God-fearing folk they appear to be, and it's all a paranoid fantasy that has taken over Brown's mind, then it does not grow to a witch-hunt, trials, deaths.

I think it's Hawthorne worrying at (rather than working through, as if it were therapy) his family history, because of course he had an ancestor who was a judge at the Salem witch trials. The only one, moreover who (Wikepedia says) did not repent of his actions.

Two things about the Witch trials, or maybe two manifestations of the same basic thing: the sense that you do not (cannot) really know your friends and neighbours - and thus that suspicion and misunderstanding can occur and escalate until an "in" group has become an "out" group; and the danger of setting oneself against the crowd.

Goodman Brown thinks he's setting himself apart by going to the Sabbat - but he actually does it by refusing to accept the "baptism". Is the lack of escalation or retribution (if the events of the night were real) a rebuke against Hawthorne's ancestor and the others involved in the trials? Or (if they were not real) is the fact that the "poison" stays bottled up inside Brown, that the contagion doesn't spread, a kind of wish-fulfilment - if only that had happened in Salem, Hawthorne wouldn't bear the guilt of his ancestor's actions.

jul. 9, 2016, 10:11pm

These are all interesting questions. It reflects well on the story that it bears up to such varied and extensive scrutiny, and in this instance I think it an example of how stories can be far richer than intended or consciously crafted by their authors.

jul. 13, 2016, 10:49am

I recently finished reading the collection I mentioned in >2 paradoxosalpha:, and posted my review.

feb. 1, 2020, 7:30pm

I so enjoyed this, that a dozen more have bitten the proverbial dust since. Likely varying impressions with each sweep through, but a solid 3rd or 4th Hawthorne, after a Melville voyage. Keeping track in the GothicLit group, but amusing to read comments here.