Young Goodman Brown
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Analysis: Narrator Point of View
Who is the narrator, can she or he read minds, and, more importantly, can we trust her or him?
Third Person (Limited Omniscient)
For the most part, Hawthorne's narrator follows around young Goodman Brown. But pay attention to that "for the most part," because here are some fascinating exceptions.
At one point, the narrator describes a complex scene involving the traveler with the snake-like staff and a few of his fiendish associates. Yet Brown isn't looking. He "beheld neither Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow-traveler alone" (36).
What's going on? What we're looking at is a limited omniscient narrator—but one who isn't afraid to break his own rules. And we think there are two points to make:
(1) The events in the forest are open to interpretations other than Brown's own. And the narrator, by taking us outside Brown's head every once in a while, subtly makes just this point. Okay, pretty straightforward.
(2) But! Remember that we're not sure whether these stories events actually happened, or whether they were just a weird nightmare? Well, by slipping away from Brown's perspective, maybe—just maybe—Hawthorne is suggesting that they did actually happen. Spooky.