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Young Goodman Brown

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The Salem witch trials of 1692 were one of the darkest times in American History, fueled by the tragic mindset of the Puritan community. The story “Young Goodman Brown” is rich with gothic descriptions, portraying many of the dark and sinister thoughts the Puritans had during the witch trials. Hawthorne left no detail out in his writing and allowed room for deep analysis in his works. The use of the story’s setting assisted Nathaniel Hawthorne in representing how fearful and paranoid the minds of Puritans were during this time period.

Puritans were very fearful of their surroundings, living with dense woodlands encompassing their town. The dark mindset that they possessed made them frightened of the unknown; these individuals believed that anything different or unfamiliar had ties with the devil. While venturing into the forest, Young Goodman Brown was described to have hastily gone down “a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest… It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such solitude, that the traveler knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks” (Hawthorne 3-4). The details that the author puts into this scene represents the way the Puritans saw their environment as malignant and sinister. They were suspicious of everything and constantly lived in fear which could have further fueled the witch hunts of 1692. This description of the woods was dark and frightening, this further describes how Puritans viewed and lived life. The Puritans had such a toxic mindset that they would often label anything as evil or unholy. While describing the forest around Young Goodman Brown, Nathaniel Hawthorne took the time to describe even the littlest things as a way to portray the Puritans mindset.

The Puritans were extremely paranoid of any Indians that could be lurking in the woods. It is even mentioned in “Young Goodman Brown” how the main characters father participated in burning Native American villages. While walking through the forest, the author includes how “‘There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree,’ said Goodman Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, ‘What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!’” (Hawthorne 3). Puritans would live their life in constant suspicion of everything around them, often mistaking things with logical explanations to be involved with the devil. The Puritan community believed that these Indians were evil monsters that would stop at nothing to harm them. The Puritans were more advanced than these Native Americans and possessed weapons that were more powerful than the Indians, however the Puritans still believed that they were in danger. They were even suspicious of people in their own community, “this black mass of cloud was sweeping swiftly northward. Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices. Once the listener fancied that he could distinguish the accents of towns-people of his own” (Hawthorne 8). Young Goodman Brown no longer trusted his fellow man and lived the rest of his life in suspicion. This is a representation of how members of the Puritan community believed their own neighbors to be evil devil worshipers during the witch trials. The suspicious and paranoid mindset of the community resulted in many deaths, and the description of the scene is one of the ways Nathaniel Hawthorne portrayed the mindset of Puritans.

The puritans were a fearful community, constantly suspicious of those around them. Both outsiders and members of their own community fell victim to the Puritans dark mindset. They were plague with constant paranoia, as well as rational and irrational fears. The description of the setting in “Young Goodman Brown” allowed Nathaniel Hawthorne to representing how fearful and paranoid the minds of Puritans were. 

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