Psychological Critical Approach Analyzing change in Hawthorne’s
The psychological critical approach is a revolutionary way of providing literal criticism. It combines the aspects of modern psychology and literal criticism. In particular, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory mainly forms the basis of literal criticism. This theory contends that the human mind is made up of the conscious and the unconscious components. This paper will apply the psychological critical approach to analyze change in Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”.
Goodman Brown goes through change when he leaves Salem Village for the gathering deep into the forest. From a psychoanalytic approach, Brown moves from the conscious realm (Salem village) into an unconscious realm (the forest). While Brown had a good understanding of the village, the forest was a mysterious place for him that evoked fear. As he enters the forest, conscious thoughts about Faith and the gathering he is to attend fill his mind. For instance, he says, “What a wretch am I, to leave her on such an errand! (Hawthorne 7).
From the psychoanalytic theory, the conscious mind harbors all the memories, thoughts, wishes, and feelings that an individual may have. He wonders whether Faith knowns about his evil plans for the night, eventually concluding that there is no way she could know the truth, as she cannot even stand such a thought. The major motivation for Brown is that he will only attend the gathering for one night and then spend all other nights with his wife. While in the forest, Brown meets an elder person, who takes it upon himself to convince him to attend the gathering.
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Deep into the forest, Goodman Brown begins to experience conflicting thoughts about whether he is doing the right thing. This is the unconscious mind as put forward in Freud’s theory. For instance, on learning that the elder man was friends with his father and grandfather, Brown exclaims, “Can this be so! (Hawthorne 21)” This indicates conflicting thoughts. Conflict between his id, ego, and superego are evident when he meets the elder man. The id seeks to fulfill wishes that cross the unconscious mind without considering the consequences.
Brown is driven by id to participate in the gathering happening in the forest. The ego, on the other hand, attempts to balance id’s unrealistic demands with the real world demands. In making the decision to attend the gathering, Brown applies the ego, noting that he will only attend for “one night” (17). This implies rationalism, a characteristic of ego. The superego is the moral principle, incorporating values learned from the society or family. The superego is evident since Brown tries to convince the elder man that his father “never went into the woods … (17)”.
Brown’s ego and superego are unable to keep in check the id’s demand of attending the evil gathering. Along the way, Brown is shocked to learn about all the noble and respectable persons from the community who regularly attend the evil gatherings. Church deacons, the governor, his father and grandfather, Goody Cloyse, and Gookin are some of the respectable people from the community that Brown comes to realize that they regularly attend the gatherings.
After Goody Cloyse disappears with the help of the elder man, Brown experiences conflict between his id, ego, and superego as he wonders whether he should choose to leave Faith and join cloyse. Brown says, “If a wretched woman chooses to go to the devil … Is that any reason why I should quit my faith…?” (Hawthorne 39). After the elder man leaves, Brown begins to pray that he stands firm against evil. He finally gives in to id urges and grabs the staff, which takes him to the gathering.
It is only when Goodman Brown attends the evil gathering that a major change in his character is evident. While taking the oath, Brown realizes that the woman whose face was covered is actually Faith. He makes effort to save her from evil only to wake up deep in the forest and alone in the next morning. Going back to the village the next morning, it is evident that he has changed.
Brown sees every person he meets in the village as evil. He dismisses Deacon Gookin as a wizard when he attempts to pronounce his blessings. In another instance, he distracts Goody Cloyse from discussing the Bible with a young girl. Surprisingly, Brown rejects even his wife. As she came running towards him with affection, “he [Brown] looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed on without a greeting” (70). Brown distrusts everyone and lives a miserable life until his death.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Young Goodman Brown. Edited by Jack Lynch, 1846.