This weekend's short story from Fifty Great American Short Stories (edited by Milton Crane) is Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown". I've not read much of Hawthorne's work (save perhaps the odd short story and The Scarlet Letter), but I know going into any of his work that it is not going to be without depth and meaning. And most likely meaning of the religious kind. As a matter of fact I think you can barely turn around in one of his stories without having a little (or a lot) symbolism hit you in the noggin. As for young Goodman Brown, who sets off for a journey into a dark and dreary forest one night--he should have listened to his wife and stayed home!
"Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the the street at Salem village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap while she called to Goodman Brown."
"'Dearest heart', whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lips were close to his ear, 'prithee put off your journey until sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeared of herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all the nights of the year'."
He must undertake this journey, the purpose of which is never revealed, tonight, and it must be between dusk and dawn and so he sets off. It's a strange surreal sort of journey and he soon meets up with a man dressed similarly to himself in decent attire and dark clothes who chastises him for arriving late. But his wife, Faith, he tells him detained him. It's deep dusk and the two are far into the forest but they still have many miles to travel. Goodman Brown seems tired already and his fellow traveler offers him his staff, which quite oddly is in the shape of a serpent. But he resists saying he has met the man as promised and is going to return home this night. Goodman Brown tells him, "I have scruples touching the matter thou wot'st of".
They meet others in the forest and strangely they are people Goodman Brown recognizes from Salem. People of worth and value and good Society. They meet an old woman called Goody Cloyse who does take the offer of the staff and seems to fly away (maybe like a witch on a broomstick). Even stranger Goodman Brown sees the lovely pink ribbon of his beloved Faith. Time and again he tells the man he is going to resist the Devil ("With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" he cries).
The murmurings in the forest go on and on and seem to drive him mad. He believes his wife is there somewhere. He is in desperation and shouts "Faith! Faith!". And then something comes fluttering down from the trees above, and he seizes it--the pink ribbon.
"'My Faith is gone!' cried he, after one stupefied moment. 'There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee the world is given'."
So, he loses his Faith, which I think is not really his wife, of course, but his faith. The people of Salem, the people of his church are in the forest and whatever it is they are doing (some sort of witchery?), he is the lone who is brought forth as the Convert.
But is it all real? Or did he only fall asleep in the forest and dream this dark dream? If it was only a dream, it was an "ill omen" as ever after he lost his youthful happiness, and "shrank from the bosom of Faith".
So this was not what you would call a happy story. So, our Good Man has lost his Faith. Hawthorne wrote this in 1835 but the setting is 17th century Salem which brings to mind the witch trials and perhaps what was happening in that dense dark forest was a witches' Sabbath? It does make me curious at what was going through Nathaniel Hawthorne's mind. I really must read more about him (and by him, too).
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Next week it's Edgar Allen Poe's turn at the podium with "Ms. Found in a Bottle". Poe is always good for a short story (I've read and enjoyed a number of his stories--my all-time favorite being "The Cask of Amontillado"!