The Central Conflict, Climax and Resolution in “Young Goodman Brown”
This essay will analyze Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” to determine the central conflict in the tale, its climax and partial resolution, using the essays of literary critics to help in this interpretation.
In my opinion, the central conflict in the tale is an internal one - the conflict in Goodman Brown between joining the ranks of the devil and remaining good, and the extension of this conflict to the world at large represented by the villagers of Salem.
It is a difficult personal journey for Young Goodman Brown, a young Puritan resident of Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1600’s to say goodbye to Faith on that fateful night and to keep a prior commitment made with an evil character (the devil) in the woods. As he travels through the forest to fulfill his personal desire: to experience evil, to indulge in devil-worship, to become a witch - whatever this strange nocturnal affair might involve, all the while he is repeatedly thinking about the “good” things he is leaving behind at church, at home (his wife Faith), and at Salem village. This internal conflict ultimately destroys the Young Goodman Brown who existed prior to the visit to the woods, and creates a new, cynical, faith-less man of gloomy, distrustful disposition.
This interpretation of the central conflict differs from that offered by Terence Martin in Nathaniel Hawthorne:
His journey into the forest is best defined as a kind of general, indeterminate [my italics] allegory, representing man’s irrational drive to leave faith, home, and security temporarily behind, for whatever individual reason, and to take a chance with one more errand onto the wilder shores of experience (92).
Goodman Brown knows that this rendezvous is morally wrong, and yet he somehow psychologically excuses himself – he rationalizes – and continues with the “errand”. While enroute to the site of the coven with his elderly travelling companion, Brown must decide, before he becomes part of the Black Sabbath, if his true desire lies in the dark depth of the woods, the land of evil, or if it lies in the innocence of simple homelife which he has heretofore enjoyed in Salem village. During the long walk to the site, Brown has many occasions to turn around, forsake his evil inclinations, and return to Faith, but each time his own curiosity, or the magic of the evil companion, or finally his lack of faith in his wife’s resolve towards good – causes him to experience great internal conflict between good and bad considerations, and to stay his course all the way to the very heart of the forest. The setting of the winding, long, journey through the woods gives ample time for this inner conflict to build within the protagonist.
Weakened in faith by the passing-by of Goody Cloyse, Deacon Gookin and the village minister, Brown laments the loss of his Faith after recognizing one of her pink ribbons;...