Young Goodman Brown
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Young Goodman Brown Theme of Memory and the Past
Making a "Young Goodman Brown" guide without a "Memory and the Past" section is like skydiving without a parachute, or like making brownies without eggs: possible, but you're not going to like the results. But keep a few things in mind: first, Hawthorne had some conflicted attitudes about the past. He was horrified by the Salem Witch Trials, but admired his ancestors for their independence and hard work. Second, he gave similarly mixed attitudes to young Goodman Brown. Brown starts off believing that he is unworthy of the "race of honest men and good Christians" he came from (17). Later, he's horrified by Salem's vices, but doesn't try to escape. To us, that sounds a lot like Hawthorne himself.
Questions About Memory and the Past
- The traveler with the staff resembles one of young Goodman Brown's ancestors. Why is this important? Does young Goodman Brown notice the resemblance?
- Do you think that Hawthorne should have told us more about historical Salem in "Young Goodman Brown"? Would such information be helpful, or just distracting?
- How much does young Goodman Brown dwell on his family's history? Do past occurrences ever help him make sense of more immediate events and conflicts?
- Are we supposed to think that young Goodman Brown's children will be just like his ancestors? Will his children be even worse? Or do you see signs of hope or redemption?
Chew on This
Hawthorne uses "Young Goodman Brown" to both praise and criticize his ancestors' stern community lifestyle.
The historical themes in "Young Goodman Brown" are secondary to timeless issues of good, evil, and personal salvation.