A Circular Plot In Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

913 words - 4 pages

    In the concluding paragraph of "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne uses the forest experience to its fullest effect, moving Brown through another series of separations to the ultimate separation, from life itself. To some critics, in fact, the concluding paragraph itself has seemed a separation, breaking the neat circularity of Hawthorne's plot, moving in linear fashion through time from Brown's figurative death at the threshold of his house to his literal death at the threshold of the grave. Yet I agree wholeheartedly with Richard Abcarian, though for different reasons, that the paragraph is not anticlimactic, a digression, an example solely of Hawthorne's penchant for heavy moralizing, or a violation of the neatly unified circular form [Abacarian, "The Ending of 'Young Goodman Brown'," Studies in Short Fiction III, No. 3, Spring 1966].

            First, the paragraph is replete with echoes, especially verbal echoes, which tie it to incidents in the forest experience while the effect of that experience reaches its highest peak. That Goodman Brown has become permanently stern and sad as a result of his one night in the forest is linked to his stern and sad look into Faith's eyes on his return, and is further linked, ironically, to the soft and sad plea she whispered into his ear on his departure. That Brown has become "darkly meditative" contrasts his "pleasant and praiseworthy meditations" after the meeting with Goody Cloyse. The "anthem of sin" that he henceforth hears at Sabbath service in the meeting house corresponds to the "dreadful anthem" swelling out of the forest at the beginning of the Black Mass. The blessed strain of the holy psalms is "drowned" by this anthem, recalling that Faith's scream of resistance was "drowned" by laughter in the black cloud. The minister's pointed reference to "saint-like lives and triumphant deaths" suggests Brown's proud reference to his pantheon of ancestors: "We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs." Brown as a "hoary corpse," just described as shrinking from the bosom of Faith, ironically resembles the "hoary-bearded elders of the church [who] have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households." Even death provides no escape for old Goodman Brown. He is borne to the graveyard, the site of the good old minister's morning promenade, where no hopeful verses are carved on his tomb, recalling the "verse after verse" of the lore of fiends sung in the wilderness, for his dying hour was gloom, final verification of the black man's prophecy that "Evil must be your only happiness."

Second, the concluding paragraph in a subtle way actually cements the circularity of the plot by...

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