Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics for “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “Young Goodman Brown” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements for “Young Goodman Brown” offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.* For background, here is a plot summary and analysis of Young Goodman Brown *
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Theme of Duplicity in “Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Throughout Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Young Goodman Brown" the reader quickly realizes that nothing is as it seems. The old man who seems innocuous is a devil, his catechism teacher is taking part in secret evil rituals, and even his wife appears in on the action. Not only is almost everyone Goodman Brown meets very duplicitous, but even objects take on a dual nature. For instance, the staff that the man Goodman Brown meets carries (a man who, oddly enough, is a dual Goodman Brown in appearance—he just happens to be older) is both a staff and a snake that twists and seems to “wriggle itself like a living serpent." For this essay on “Young Goodman Brown" look at the role duplicity plays and consider the ways in which these dual characteristics of people and objects serves as an extended set of metaphors. Even if this was all a dream that Young Goodman Brown had, it might be more helpful for this essay to assume not.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Meaning and Importance of Names in “Young Goodman Brown"
One of the major themes in “Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne is duplicity and the way that nothing is as it seems. Using elements from essay question 1, consider the role and importance of names in this text. For instance, the title character “Goodman Brown" has a name that at first suggests innocence and the will to do good (good-man) yet the last name—Brown suggests something that is darkened or otherwise soiled. This is especially interesting considering what the old man tells Young Goodman Brown of his father and his lineage. Equally worthy of note (and along similar lines) is the name “Goody" for the old woman or “Faith" for his wife. Assuming that Young Goodman Brown was not simply dreaming, the names are all ironic because they reflect characteristics that are not present.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: “Young Goodman Brown" and Complimentary Themes Found in Other Works By Nathaniel Hawthorne
One of the best ways to consider many of the themes in “Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, is to look it in the context of his other works. In other short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne such as “The Minister’s Black Veil" or novels like “The Scarlet Letter," Hawthorne consistently explores similar ideas about the nature of good and evil, the influence of Puritan ideas and the Puritan community in general, as well as guilt, both in a public and private sense. For this essay on “Young Goodman Brown" examine one theme (for example, guilt, sin, or the Puritan community) and compare it to both “The Minister’s Black Veil" “The Birthmark" or “The Scarlet Letter." A good structure for this essay would involve a thesis statement discussing the theme you’re examining, followed by one or two paragraphs devoted to each other text. Conclude the essay with a statement on how, through these works, Nathaniel Hawthorne is making a statement about the theme or even set of symbols you’ve chosen or about Puritan society in general.
* Other possible essay topics for “Young Goodman Brown" include examining the role of the setting and considering why Nathaniel Hawthorne goes through such great lengths to establish such a rich sense of place. Also, there are a number of symbols and rich examples of imagery (especially when used as metaphors) throughout the text to consider and looking at the representation of women (as either completely evil and witch-like or completely good and wholesome). One more essay idea might be to examine the way the forest and the natural world in “Young Goodman Brown" function as an actual character with motivations, moods, and an independent will.
* For background, here is a plot summary and analysis of Young Goodman Brown *
This list of important quotations from “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Young Goodman Brown” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “Young Goodman Brown” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes from “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorn contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished at length, leaving him [Goodman Brown] in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushing onward, with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil" (273).
A particular rock bore a “resemblance to either an altar or a pulpit" (274).
“The red light arose and fell, a numerous congregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in the shadow, and again grew, as it were, out of darkness, peopling the heart of the solitary woods at once" (274).
(Of Faith) “Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night, I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to Heaven" (272).
“On he flew, among the black pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting such laughter as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his own shape is less hideous, than when he rages in the breast of man" (276).
“Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such as the pious love, but joined to words which expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more. Unfathomable to mere mortals is the lore of fiends” (277).
“Nature was laughing him to scorn” (275)
“how hoary bearded elders of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of their households.”(276)
“my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose to go to the devil, when I thought she was going to Heaven! Is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith, and go after her?”(274)
“But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and not from its other horrors”(277)
The Weakness of Public Morality
In “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne reveals what he sees as the corruptibility that results from Puritan society’s emphasis on public morality, which often weakens private religious faith. Although Goodman Brown has decided to come into the forest and meet with the devil, he still hides when he sees Goody Cloyse and hears the minister and Deacon Gookin. He seems more concerned with how his faith appears to other people than with the fact that he has decided to meet with the devil. Goodman Brown’s religious convictions are rooted in his belief that those around him are also religious. This kind of faith, which depends so much on other people’s views, is easily weakened. When Goodman Brown discovers that his father, grandfather, Goody Cloyse, the minister, Deacon Gookin, and Faith are all in league with the devil, Goodman Brown quickly decides that he might as well do the same. Hawthorne seems to suggest that the danger of basing a society on moral principles and religious faith lies in the fact that members of the society do not arrive at their own moral decisions. When they copy the beliefs of the people around them, their faith becomes weak and rootless.
The Inevitable Loss of Innocence
Goodman Brown loses his innocence because of his inherent corruptibility, which suggests that whether the events in the forest were a dream or reality, the loss of his innocence was inevitable. Instead of being corrupted by some outside force, Goodman Brown makes a personal choice to go into the forest and meet with the devil; the choice was the true danger, and the devil only facilitates Goodman Brown’s fall. Goodman Brown is never certain whether the evil events of the night are real, but it does not matter. If they are a dream, then they come completely from Goodman Brown’s head—a clear indication of his inherent dark side. If they are real, then Goodman Brown has truly seen that everyone around him is corrupt, and he brought this realization upon himself through his excessive curiosity. Goodman Brown’s loss of innocence was inevitable, whether the events of the night were real or a dream.
The Fear of the Wilderness
From the moment he steps into the forest, Goodman Brown voices his fear of the wilderness, seeing the forest as a place where no good is possible. In this he echoes the dominant point of view of seventeenth-century Puritans, who believed that the wild New World was something to fear and then dominate. Goodman Brown, like other Puritans, associates the forest with the wild “Indians” and sees one hiding behind every tree. He believes that the devil could easily be present in such a place—and he eventually sees the devil himself, just as he had expected. He considers it a matter of family honor that his forefathers would never have walked in the forest for pleasure, and he is upset when the devil tells him that this was not the case. He himself is ashamed to be seen walking in the forest and hides when Goody Cloyse, the minister, and Deacon Gookin pass. The forest is characterized as devilish, frightening, and dark, and Goodman Brown is comfortable in it only after he has given in to evil.
More main ideas from Young Goodman Brown