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In A Brown Study, 11

July 14, 2016

A brown study has no plan, diagram, or map. Thoughts drift, disorganized and rambling, but often return to a point of origin. Following someone’s brown study can take perseverance, like working out a jigsaw-puzzle or participating in a psychoanalysis. One need not write his brown study, but, when he does, he may discover what he has become and where his interests have taken him.

My interest in stories has led me to Nathaniel Hawthorne, but I have begun to dislike novels with sentences that look like paragraphs and stories containing little dialogue. My elderly eyes betray me, but the gift of a short story is its brevity. Steven King opts that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story, Young Goodman Brown, is one of the 10 best short stories ever written. One must delve deeply into his brown study to savor young Goodman Brown’s experience, or was it a dream? No matter, for both our experiences and our dreams influence what we are.

The main characters and the setting in that story are introduced in the first sentence. “Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem Village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young wife.” Faith, his wife of three months, with pink ribbons blowing in the evening breeze, begs him not to go, but he insists he must and ventures alone into the forest, wary of devilish Indians.

“Why?” the reader wonders.

There he encounters waiting for him an elderly man bearing a staff with a curious black snake on the handle. Goodman Brown is a man of faith, and believes his people are people of prayer and good works. He is hesitant to believe they made this journey with this strange man. He spies Goody Cloyse, his catechism teacher, his minister, Deacon Gookin, and assorted members of his community, and realizes he is with witches, devils, and evil people intent on initiating new members into their society, but he does not have the strength to turn back.

“Welcome my children,” says a deep voice, “to the communion of your race.” Then Goodman Brown sees his wife, Faith, pink ribbons fluttering in the breeze, approach the altar, and she sees him. They hesitate. Is virtue a dream and evil the nature of mankind? Has he lost his faith? Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest, and “only dreamed a wild dream of a devilish meeting?”

Alas. Dream or experience, Goodman Brown was a changed man. He no longer believed in goodness. “Hr shrank from the bosom of faith, and “When he had lived long and was born to his grave, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.”

Our experience and our dreams exert their power.                           -to be contd.

 

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