In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” Faith’s pink ribbons represent her purity and Goodman Brown’s changing feelings for her, ultimately leading the reader to challenge the veracity of Goodman Brown’s claims. Faith’s pink ribbons symbolic significance change throughout the short story.
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Archetypally, pink represents naivete, youthfulness, sweetness, and purity. Faith embodies all of these characteristics. Ergo, it only makes sense that her pink ribbons are symbolic of Faith’s purity and later, Goodman Brown’s changing feelings for her. Prior to engaging with her husband, Faith’s pink ribbons are mentioned for the first time. She let the “the wind play with her pink ribbons of her cap” while her downtrodden husband bid his “young wife” ado by exchanging a “parting kiss” (page 1). The ribbons are again mentioned (albeit in superficial manner) only a few short sentences later. Faith is giddy with faith in her husband, saying “God Bless you” and “May you find well when you come back” (page 1). It’s a few paragraphs later when the aforementioned pink ribbons, which also serve as a motif, gains a symbolic meaning. When the two part for good, Hawthorne says: “The young man pursued his way, until, being about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the head of Faith still peeping after him, with a melancholy air, in spite of her pink ribbons” (page 1). Soon thereafter, Goodman Brown exclaims “Poor little Faith! What a wretch am I…” (page 1). Not only does this illuminate who Goodman Brown is (a miserable, negative wretch); it also represents unconditional love for her husband, her childlike nature, and her extremely different personality from her husband (she peeps at him like a child; he drowns himself in a pool of depression and pity). Even in the end, when Goodman Brown is tempted by the Devil in an Adam and Eve-like story, she remains pure, her ribbons remain prevalent.
Faith’s character remains unchanged throughout the story, but the significance of her ribbons take on a new meaning. At the start of the short story, we know that Goodman Brown holds his wife in a high esteem, even chastising himself for being unfair to her. As the story progresses, it’s clear that his opinion of his wife is changing. Hawthorne brings the ribbons back into the story in the forest when Goodman Brown is confronted by the devil. One of Faith’s ribbons falls to the ground and Goodman Brown perceives it not only as Faith’s loss of innocence and purity, but her succumbing to the devil. “’My Faith is gone!” Goodman Brown exclaimed, “’There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil! for to thee is this world given’” (page 2). Faith’s ribbon, which previously represented good things, now represents bad things and makes Goodman Brown think that she’s lost her purity and innocence. As a result of this he changes his opinion of her. Essentially, he now views her in a more negative light than before, suggesting that Goodman Brown’s arduous journey and foray with the devil has had a profound effect on him and his view of Faith and ultimately, her ribbons. Faith’s ribbons take on a new meaning again when Goodman Brown returns from his journey. On his way home, Goodman Brown spots Faith acting as she did at the start of the story: giddy with happiness and skipping “along the street” towards him. Hawthorne says: “He spied the head of Faith, with the pink ribbons” (page 2). Not only does this cast doubt as to the veracity of Goodman Brown’s story (Hawthorne even mentions that it made me a story made up by Goodman Brown, saying “Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch-meeting?), it also returns the meaning of Faith’s pink ribbons to their original meaning. That is, Faith represents naivete, youthfulness, sweetness, and purity.
In effect, the symbolic significance of Faith’s pink ribbons change depending on the section of the short story. In one section it represents the characteristics of Faith; in others it represents Goodman Brown’s changing feelings for her. In correlation with the two aforementioned aspects of the theme, it also represents a challenge to the veracity of Goodman Brown’s claims. Really though, the narrative cohesiveness of Hawthorne’s short story rests on Faith’s pink ribbons. Without those, we wouldn’t have nearly the same amount of mystery and intrigue that the story now has.
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