Personification in "Young Goodman Brown"
"Young Goodman Brown," written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is an allegory meant to teach a lesson. The story, set in the Puritan town of Salem, follows Goodman Brown as he leaves his new wife, Faith, to travel in the woods at night. His visit to the woods involves a meeting with the devil and a realization that everyone he knows is in league with evil. This visit to the woods forever changes him and he loses faith in his fellow man. In an allegory, the characters and settings are symbolic of overarching ideas. To create symbolism, Hawthorne used personification as a means of creating his story.
Young Goodman Brown
Goodman Brown is meant to represent an everyman, meaning the qualities he portrays are meant to be indicative in the general population. He embodies several traits that were stereotypical of Puritan Christian men of his time. Brown thinks highly of his forefathers and their honesty and goodness, but as the plot unfolds, he is challenged to believe his family has given into temptation from the devil in the past. When he faces the "congregation" in the woods and realizes that all in Salem have aligned with the devil, he realizes the hypocrisy present in the village and loses his faith as a result. Goodman Brown personifies the individual quest for faith that every person must eventually face.
Goodman Brown's wife, Faith, is a literal symbol for his faith. Giving abstract ideas names and human qualities is personification defined. At the start, Brown leaves Faith, whom he describes as a "blessed angel on earth," and heads to the forest to meet the devil. He spends the first part of his journey missing Faith and then he hears a cry of sorrow, which he recognizes as his wife's voice. At this turning point in the story, he realizes that his wife, Faith, and his own faith have left him. Even though he turns from the townspeople, the person he first turns from is Faith.
When he enters the forest, Goodman Brown encounters an older man whom he strangely resembles. The old man carries a staff that looks like a giant snake and seemingly wriggles in his hands. The man shares that he has secret alliances with deacons, men of the court and government, and upright women in Salem town. It is later revealed that the man is the personification of the devil, as a passerby announces. The devil also appears within Brown as he is angered at the evil present in Salem. The devil is also found in the form of a dark figure and gives a sermon to the "congregation" in the forest, saying that "Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness." Satan is personified in three forms, showing how crafty and devious the fiend can be.
The forest itself plays an important role in the story. From the onset, the forest seems to have a life of its own as Goodman Brown is constantly hearing voices. Brown describes it "as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn." The dark forest eventually transforms into the congregation of Salem villagers who have aligned with the devil. Brown is faced with everyone he has ever known, even his father, and realizes that those whom he thought righteous actually have done evil deeds. The forest personifies the mystery of sin and the whole congregation of humanity who fall into temptation.
Russell Paul teaches English and yearbook at Gaston Early College High School in Dallas, North Carolina. He is a National Board Certified teacher. Paul attended Michigan State University, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in English, and Western Governor's University for a Master of Education in instructional design.