The Symbolism of the Character of Goodman Brown's Wife, Faith

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The Symbolism of the Character of Goodman Brown’s Wife, Faith

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When “Young Goodman Brown” is read simply, the role of Goodman Brown’s wife, Faith, can easily be interpreted as an allegory of Brown’s own faith. Hawthorne has written the story in a way that allows the reader to interpret it using their own experiences as a guide. If the reader looks deeper, it becomes apparent that Hawthorne is alluding to more than just Faith as one’s faith becoming lost and corrupted. Hawthorne uses this story to illustrate that faith is more complex than blindly following a religion. True faith is not perfect and requires questioning. Ignorance of other’s actions is not bliss, and faith is not breaking down when the moral depravity of others is revealed. How one reacts to this unveiling and continues to have faith is what is important.

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When Goodman Brown’s wife is introduced in the opening paragraph it is stated, “And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap”. (Hawthorne 1) Hawthorne chooses the word ‘aptly’ to describe Faith’s name because he wants the reader to automatically be able to infer the relationship between Faith and religious faith. He goes a step further by describing the ribbons in Faith’s hair to give her the air of innocence and naivety that is often associated with faith. The next paragraph is where the reader is required to delve deeper to understand Hawthorne’s message. Faith says to her husband, “A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts, that she’s afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!” (2) This line begs the question, why would Faith, who is up until this point an allegory for religious faith, be afraid of what she might do? This is the first sign that Faith is not perfect, and Hawthorne is hinting at how faith is not faultless even in this pure town. However, just after that line, Brown thinks, “Well; she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven”. (7) Brown is not listening to what Faith is saying, he is seeing her as a two-dimensional figure who is meant to keep him safe and bring him to heaven after the sinful act he is going to commit.

Goodman Brown has always held his faith strong and believes that the pious people in his village are inherently good. When he hears them mixing together with the ungodly people, his faith wavers. This is demonstrated by Faith appearing, “There was one voice, of a young woman, uttering lamentations, yet with an uncertain sorrow, and entreating for some favor, which, perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain”. (47) This represents the impasse Brown has reached. He was originally curious about what was happening in the woods, but he has now decided to take a stand against the devil. Faith represents the struggle between fulfilling his curiosity and learning the world was not how he thought, or staying in his own realm of naivety. Faith demonstrates the sorrow Brown feels for leaving behind his innocence as well as the anguish his newfound knowledge will cause him. When Brown catches Faith’s pink ribbon in his hands he believes it to mean his Faith is gone and, at this moment, his religious faith is also gone, “There is no good on earth, and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given”. (50) Without faith, there is no hope, and Brown loses his blessed ignorance of the real world.

Throughout the story, Brown relies on his Faith to save him, “Depending upon one another’s hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue was not all a dream!” (65) this line demonstrates that one cannot depend on another to be their savior. Hawthorne uses irony here to allude to the ending where Brown is not sure whether the night’s events were a dream or not. In the church, Communion is “the realization of the relationship between Christ and the communicant”. (Merriam-Webster) When the devil says, “Welcome… to the communion of your race,” (Hawthorne 65) he is referencing the Act of Communion in the church. This moment signifies the realization of the relationship between people and the inevitable sin. It is important to the story because it shows that even with all the horror and terror that goes on in the world it is imperative to maintain your faith. “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”. (67) This moment represents Brown losing his ingenuousness. He decides to “resist the Wicked One” (68) and in this resists the knowledge that life is not as black and white as he thought. When Hawthorne writes, “whether Faith obeyed, he knew not”. (69) This signifies that Brown doesn’t know whether he believes in his faith anymore. At the beginning of the story, Brown was sure that Faith was going to save him and now he is not even sure if he can trust her to listen to him.

Faith is not an allegory for faith the way most people think of religious faith. The message in Hawthorne’s story is that faith must be questioned, and it is not perfect. Goodman Brown’s view of Faith and his actual faith changes in this initiation story. He starts with believing fully in the goodness of the other villagers in his town to shutting them all out entirely. Hawthorne wants people to recognize that even when it is revealed that something is completely different than what was originally thought, it does not mean it is necessary to lose faith in humanity or God. Faith does not mean thinking everything is perfect in the world, it means realizing it isn’t and still living life and having faith. Hawthorne is letting the reader decide what they believe happened in the story; however, the ending calls the reader to be wary of cynicism. Hawthorne allows the reader’s imagination to create their own ending and this exposes the reader to the knowledge that nothing is two-dimensional and that each perspective is different.

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