Thursday, November 11, 2010

Essay on Young Goodman Brown

Essay on Young Goodman Brown

I feel there is more to the state of the mind of the main character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story "Young Goodman Brown".

Young Goodman Brown represents the common man; he must leave his Faith (both his belief and his wife) behind for the night, so that he can face the devil inside himself, and in his family. His journey takes him deep into the heart of the forest, where he encounters his advisor on her way to a congregation, high-ranking religious leaders from the village, and the devil. The devil is attempting to lure the reluctant Goodman Brown to the congregation, and throughout the entire ordeal it seems as though Goodman Brown is in a dream...a very bad dream.

The deeper that Goodman Brown goes into the forest, the more he becomes one with his evil. He ultimately reaches the congregation under the blazing trees, where the worshippers have gathered to convert Goodman Brown and his Faith (again both his belief and wife). By the time he reaches the conversion, Goodman Brown’s faith in his religion, and his religious leaders has been weakened by the devil. At the apex of the conversion, Goodman Brown cries to his Faith, and tells her to “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one.” His Faith was spared, but Goodman Brown had become one with the devil. From that day forward Goodman Brown became “a stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful,” man out of fear from the dream.



This story takes place during the late 1600s in Salem, Massachusetts, where there was widespread hysteria and fear of witchcraft. Much of this hysteria was fueled by an infestation of ergot fungus in the community’s grain supply; this fungus causes a myriad of symptoms, such as convulsions, hallucinations, and outbursts of gibberish (also, LSD is derived from ergot fungus). Those who came down with these symptoms were accused of witchcraft, and sentenced to jail...or even death. I believe that Goodman Brown had ingested some ergot fungus (in the form of bread) before he set out on his journey... Here is my interpretation of what was going on...

The fungus begins to kick in when Goodman Brown meets the Devil. The Devil’s staff begins to wriggle, and from that point on the further that he goes into the forest the more intense his hallucinations become. When they encounter Goody Cloyse, Goodman Brown watches her speak with the devil, and then suddenly the Devil casts down his staff to the old woman. Goodman Brown looks up from the action expecting to see the old woman and the Devil, but to his astonishment Goody Cloyse is gone.

After that, Goodman Brown refuses to go any further with the Devil, so he then finds himself alone in the woods. As Goodman Brown travels by himself, he hears hoof tramps; he immediately takes cover alongside the road and hears voices. He never does see the source of the voices, but he is certain that it was the Deacon, and the minister. Then he began to hear villager voices and even the voice of his Faith... but then he heard her scream! The ergot fungus has now completely taken hold; he becomes enraged and bolts off in the direction of the voices. All around him the forest is alive with “frightful sounds,” and it appears as though the forest is surrounding him. Goodman Brown comes into a clearing to find the trees ablaze, and the “wilderness pealing in awful harmony together.” He stays back to observe the spectacle of his fellow villagers, and minister practicing witchcraft. His hallucinations are peaking at this point; he joins the congregation as a convert, and finds his that his Faith is there with him. Things are out of control, Goodman Brown faces the devil and has his Faith cast her eyes up towards heaven. He passes out, then wakes up in the morning all groggy from the night before, and he is unsure if what happened the night before really happened or was just a dream. Whether it was a dream or not, it still had a permanent affect on the mind-state of Goodman Brown.

I believe that Goodman Brown’s spiritual journey was actually fueled by the father of today’s LSD... ergot fungus. It is not an uncommon practice to ingest hallucinogens to find one’s religion; Native American tribes still practice the “vision quest” ritual, where a young man fasts for a few days, then eats peyote to aid him in finding his “spirit guide.” I am not suggesting that Goodman Brown intentionally set out to eat the hallucinogen (although that is a possibility), I believe that ergot fungus accounts for what Goodman Brown saw, and heard. This whole dream or experience does not seem very feasible to me, but when I take into account the drugs that people took unknowingly back then, it makes much more sense, and is much more believable (and understandable) to me.

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