lunes, 22 de abril de 2013

Young Goodman Brown

"Young Goodman Brown"
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
USA, 1846

Given the tragic events that took place in the Boston area last week, it's quite a relief for this metro Boston transplant to share a New England item of interest with you that isn't sickening or depressing or traumatizing for a change.  Rarely has an otherwise somber short story so cheered me up!  Of course, "Young Goodman Brown" isn't oppressive or gloomy from a storytelling point of view.  Not at all.  Hawthorne is in peak form throughout this c. 1700, Salem Village-set tale of the young Goodman Brown's symbolic struggle with faith and a possible late night meeting with the devil in a forest outside of town.  Three reasons why the story wowed me: 1) Loved the "modern" manner in which Hawthorne's prose playfully gussies up the more supernatural aspects of the story while leaving it up to the reader to decide whether the supernatural elements really are only conjured up in the title character's Puritan mind.  Here, for instance, we learn about a nondescript "traveller," later identified as the devil, that young Goodman Brown meets in the "dreary" forest after sunset one night: "But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent.  This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light" (60).  2) The devil character, as befits his wily reputation in some circles, is a smooth talker who gets plenty of great dialogue to go along with the best phallic symbol props in the whole affair.  Given the Salem Village setting and the fact that one of Hawthorne's own ancestors is said to have presided over the witch trials at Salem, here's a choice pre-"Sympathy for the Devil" soundbite where the traveler--considering the story's suggestion that evil is to be found inside man rather than without, significantly a lookalike for Goodman Brown--introduces himself and reveals the nature of his game: "Well said, Goodman Brown!  I have been as well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; and that's no trifle to say.  I helped your grandfather, the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's war" (60).  3) Despite its economy of scale, this lean 13-page tale isn't lacking in either ambition or execution.  How else to explain the confidence of an author who can have a fiendish character convincingly declaim "Evil is the nature of mankind.  Evil must be your only happiness.  Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race" on one page (69) and then have his narrator innocently ask, "Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wild dream of a witch meeting?" on the very next--before answering "Be it so if you will; but alas!" with a plot twist even more devastatingly laden with gloom than a supernatural ending could even hint at?  An exceptionally satisfying piece of work.

Source
"Young Goodman Brown," which should be easy enough to find online for those inclined, is the fourth piece in Hawthorne's 1846 Mosses from an Old Manse as assembled in the still lovely town of Concord, Massachusetts.  I read the Modern Library Classics edition of the work (New York: 2003, 58-70).

12 comentarios:

  1. You have me scuttling off to reread this. I don't think I've read it in 30 years and have forgotten the twist although I remember I loved it and which short story collection it is in.

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    1. Séamus, I've reread "Young Goodman Brown" two or three times in the last couple of years alone--always pleased to see how well it holds up! Also, the awesome thing about Hawthorne's plot twist at the end is that it isn't just some shallow ploy for attention: it's essential to the ultimate meaning of the story although you might not realize the significance of what the story's really all about up until the very end. Impressive!

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  2. i have not read this but I really want to. Sounds a little reminiscent of James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. I read that earlier this year and I found it very engaging.

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    1. Brian, it's a quick read but packs a mighty punch for such a minimal time investment--hope you get a chance to get to it soon. I need to get to that Hogg novel myself; it's been gathering dust on my bookshelves for a few years now even though almost everybody I know who's read it just raves about it. Not enough time, not enough time! :D

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  3. Richard - I see you're laying some good groundwork for approaching The Devil to Pay in the Backlands!

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    1. Scott, I still haven't started Guimarães Rosa yet but hope to change all that this weekend. Until then, better the devil you know than the devil you don't!

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  4. I gotta reread it too. I remember the twist, but not all of those juicy lines!

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    1. I'm way off your trailblazing pace on my personal (i.e. heretofore nonexistent) Hawthorne project these days, Tom, but even so I thought this was a particularly lively example of writing from the guy. In other words, a fun way to shave off 13 of the approximately 5,000 pages separating you and me and those insane LOA Hawthorne tallies you racked up and then blogged about!

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  5. I read a big book of his stories a few years ago, they were very good, in fact I think he's a better prose writer than Poe.

    What I really want is read one of his novels one day, but not The Scarlet Letter. I want to try The Marble Faun or The Blithedale Romance, they seem more interesting.

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  6. Hawthorne and Poe were so different stylistically that it's sometimes difficult for me to fathom that they were both contemporaries. I'm up for reading/rereading more of both, though, since it's been a while since they were really on my radar. By the way, Miguel, I'd bet big money that you're going to be terribly disappointed if you bypass The Scarlet Letter for that mediocre blah known as The Blithedale Romance. Don't say I didn't warn you!

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  7. Poe is among the worst prose writers of any first-class literary author, perhaps the worst. Not that he does not have his moments.

    Hawthorne, in his novels, is also an author of moments, of scenes. Sometimes he writes a lot of great scenes (as in The Scarlet Letter), sometimes a few (Blithedale). I just took a look at my favorite scene in Blithedale - my god, is Hawthorne a weird novelist. The Marble Faun may be the weirdest of the weird.

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    1. Did I just hear an "ouch!" from the Poe corner? Why, yes, I think I did. Hawthorne as "an author of moments, of scenes" makes a lot of sense to me esp. since that one morbid vigil in The House of the Seven Gables is such a standout chapter in a book largely full of non-standout chapters. I really need to reread The Scarlet Letter, though, to see if what I thought was so fantastic in high school still appeals to the more jaded and maybe more critical me.

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