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In A Brown Study, 12

July 18, 2016

The story “Young Goodman Brown” (first published in 1835) is an allegory, a story that teaches a moral or a lesson. Pretending to be what one is not, hypocrisy, in others and in ourselves, can have dismal effects.

New England in the early 19th century was the center of a movement called Transcendentalism. Closely related to Unitarianism, a belief that one cannot generally overcome the evils of human society, it echoes Eastern philosophies’ belief in the innate goodness of the individual and nature. Organized religion and political parties corrupt the purity of the individual.

Young Goodman Brown seemed set in his beliefs, but he was tempted to meet a stranger to journey at night into the nearby woods. What did he expect; adventure, amusement, something else?  His motive is unknown, but he is young and impulsive, with a fixed mind-set. He believes he, his family, and his neighbors are righteous religious people.

When he realizes the man he is accompanying is the devil incarnate, about to take him to an initiation celebration of a coven and the assembly  consists of his wife, his family, and his neighbors, he recognizes his own vulnerability. Perhaps he is not a Good Man, but as wicked as the others. Dream or experience? We do not know, but the effect is devastating. His  faith, his innocence, is threatened and shattered in that moment. He awakens, a changed man.

Perhaps he had prayed, “Lead me not into temptation.” We don’t want to go there, but we do. The world tempts us. Heaven seems remote, and God seems not to care that we suffer. We awaken, cynical and defensive. Goodman Brown shielded himself by secluding himself, and so he led a life that was empty and reclusive.

What does the reader know that Goodman Brown never discovered? We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s and our own expectations. We have a proclivity for doing what benefits ourselves regardless of how that behavior affects others.

Our God redeems us with his grace and mercy. We do not have to live in the past  or in the beliefs we held in the past, nor do we need to beg forgiveness. We have the present and the future in which to do better. Our business on earth requires us to live in society, doing our best to redeem it and ourselves. Our posterity requires it. May all who come behind us find us faithful- to God, our sojourners in this world, and ourselves. In being Good Men and Women, may we help others to become so.

For this we have Jesus.

  • to be contd.

 

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