A Critical Analysis of a Work By Means of a Literary Theory

A Critical Analysis of a Work By Means of a Literary Theory

“A Young Goodman Brown” is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story that was published in the year 1835.  The story is set in the 17th century in Puritan New England and its focus is on the Puritan beliefs on the concepts of good and evil. The community’s concept of faith is expressed through the belief in God whose grace is depicted to be unmerited, especially when a person has sinned. The main character in the story is Goodman Brown who undergoes a test of faith whereby the readers see him scrutinizing himself and losing his faith and virtues. Indeed, his faith in God is tested and has to find the right path by overcoming evil. Interestingly, at first, the audience is not made aware that evil had been part of him all through. The audience is not informed about the issue until later in the story. Hawthorne uses relational concepts throughout the short story to develop contrasting morals, the characters’ perceptions on different issues and the major themes. The structuralism technique can be used to evaluate the underlying structure used by the author to create meaning in the story. In this case, the main focus is placed on the text rather than the characters. Through the mentioned method of analysis, the readers can recognize the literal sense in the story and setting aside individual interpretations. The structuralism theory can be related to this story because of the themes, the universal narrative structure, and the reoccurring motifs and patterns.

Summary of Structuralism Theory

Structuralism theory was established in the 1950s and 1960s, from Formalism. The aim of structuralism has been to trace the structures of text in a wide context by analyzing the prose. When used, the reader can identify the conventions of a literary genre, especially how a text breaks the rules. it enables a reader to do so because it mainly pertains to the concept that it is possible to understand things purely though isolating them rather than looking at their larger structure. Humans have the habit of interpreting their world through their experience. However, the only way in which the true meaning of the experience can be achieved by the reader is by identifying the “literal sense” in it. At the same time, through the analysis, it is easy to establish universality in structure and identify patterns and motifs that reoccur throughout a text.

The use of Structuralism in the Story

The theory of structuralism is evident in Hawthorne’s short story because of the prose narration technique that enables the readers to identify the themes and the styles used by the author thus allowing them to understand the literal sense in the story. The author uses a specific language such as the character’s names that acts as symbolism. Hawthorne gives the characters names that depict their beliefs and purity. For instance, the names of the main characters are Young Goodman Brown and Faith (his wife). However, at the end of the story, the audience learns of the contrast and irony in their names, as used by the author, because they do not end up reflecting the meanings of their names.   Young Goodman Brown ends up losing faith in the wife and the entire Christian community because of the sins that he had committed. It prevented him from trusting or believing in anyone in the society including the wife who was the source of his faith. Since at the beginning of the book the writer gives the readers the impression that the names of the characters reflect their personalitiesthe readers expect Goodman to not lose faith in the Christian virtues and community despite the problems he faces, but this does not happen. By being overly suspicious of all the people around him, Young Goodman Brown failed to express his implied identity..

It is clear that Hawthorne structured the story in this manner to critique the Puritan society by expressing his distain towards them. Through this, he managed to illustrate to the readers the difference in societal appearances and their deep and true identities. The names of the characters are, therefore, symbolism that represents the Puritan society in the eyes of the author. The author seems to think that the puritans were the opposite of what they projected themselves to be in society, just like the names of the characters of the short story. However, the meaning at the end of the story can only be understood through a relational analysis because, the patterns of the of unbelief reoccurs throughout the story as Brown goes through trials and temptations. A person may make the assumption that the author’s aim is to create conventions through the recurring patterns but that is not true. Hawthorne uses the codes in names to show that sometimes what is presented as reality and perceived as such may be the opposite in reality. Rather, meanings are arbitrary and this is what the theory of structuralism tries to convey.

The contrasting forces in the names of the characters and their roles in the story is one way in which the author managed to change the perception of the readers about the world around them. At the beginning of the story, Brown is set in his hometown talking about his wife. However, the readers can contrast this part with his faith meaning that the character Faith has been used as a symbolism. Indeed, Faith does not possess the character that her name suggests because she is not the source of confidence in the life of Brown as the readers anticipated. The reality behind this is depicted when he refused to listen to the wife and decided to proceed with his evil plans meaning that he no longer had faith in her hence could not follow anything that she told him (Hawthorne 405).  In literal concept, a good man is expected not to be evil or purpose evil plans. The author has managed to further show the readers the ways in which the concepts of good and evil contradicts through the character Brown especially throughout his journey in the forest. The connection that he had with the evil man in the forest creates a different picture about his true identity of being more evil that the readers had anticipated.

Brown is not only paranoid but also talks to himself regarding devilish Indians. as he engages in a monologue an old man appears to him. The man is Brown’s real reflection because his appearance resembles his. The readers are left in suspense as the man in the forest claims that Brown was late for their daily meeting, since the gender of the said meeting is not revealed in the scene. The author also leaves the readers in surprise when he asserts that the man in the forest is holding a stick that looked like a living serpent (Hawthorne 406). It is evident that the theme of the story is shifting from good to evil through this revelation. The strange man explains that he has a strong connection to Brown’s past. He was the motive behind his father setting fire on the Indian villages and his grandfather whipping the Quaker women. The presence of this man who influenced Browns father and grandfather to commit in humane acts in his life can be perceived as him having a strong connection to the evil that is in his blood line. Also, the revelation about the Brown’s father and grandfather makes the readers question the Puritan culture, which the author seeks to reveal with the use of this structural evaluation in the story. Through this scene, Hawthorne manages to express the difference between the puritan’s appearance and their true selves. Indeed, at the beginning of the novel he author leads the audience to perceive the Puritan society as pure and with a strong faith in God. However, when the history of the said society is traced; it is easy to point out horrifying occurrences such as King Philip’s war and the public lashing of women that triggered the Indian war. These inhumane acts can only be revealed through a thorough look at the society’s history. Though the war has been evaluated through human experience, its true roots and meaning are often ignored and this is the literal sense that the author tried to achieve by using structuralism theory.

It also becomes clear to the audience that the theme of faith has a blurred meaning because the characters do not show any signs of having faith in each other or the community. Also, it can be analyzed as a phrase that emphasizes problems rather than solutions. This is seen when Brown mentions that it was Faith who had kept him while in the village, yetthere is no strong connection that the readers can make between him and the wife because he ended up defying her desire for him to stay.  It is worth noting is that the word “Faith” begins with a capital all through the story showing that it has been given a different meaning from what the readers perceive typically. t is only through a proper analysis that this truth can be identified by the readers. Evil had been present in his home and family which ended up affecting Brown’s perception about sin throughout his journey in the forest. However, the reason Brown ends up sinning is because all along sin has been part of him, without him knowing.

Nonetheless, the concept of redemption is evident where Brown starts dealing with the echoing voices in the forest. Indeed, he is totally lost in sin when he stumbles upon faces that seemed familiar to him. The faces of Deacon Gookin and the local priest are used as symbols to show him that the path he had taken is wrong (Hawthorne 406). Brown mentions that the figures that keeps seeing tries to lure him out of the forest.  The only relational standpoint that can be derived from this is redemption, which is a common belief among the Puritan people.

In conclusion, structuralism theory can be related to Hawthorne’s story because of the themes, the universal narrative structure, and the reoccurring motifs and patterns. Throughout the story, the author used symbolism and irony to enable the readers to understand the structures of text in the larger context by analyzing the prose used. The language that has been used in the story has enhanced more on the structural theory especially the specific names used by the author that acted as symbols. It is this technique that the readers managed to use to identify that sometimes the physical appearance of people or society does not symbolize their true identities.



Work Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. The New-England Magazine, 1835. Retrieved from http://www.eldritchpress.org/nh/ygb.html