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Young Goodman Brown

As part of Literature Week, the Chronicle is publishing book reviews. The event organised by Gibraltar Cultural Services includes discussions with local authors live streamed on their Facebook page and talks in schools. Today the Garrison Library’s Chris Tavares shares his book recommendations.

As I write this review, once again the United States of America finds itself colonising the forefronts of our collective minds, headlines and airwaves.

To some perhaps a merciful distraction from certain other world-encompassing events that have plagued our most recent memory, to others no doubt the manifestation of yet another symptom of the malady that is the twenty-four hour news cycle.

Whichever camp you may fall into, the world will surely continue to watch with curious trepidation as a new chapter of American history unfolds before us.

A relatively young yet fascinating history, it is precisely this curiosity that led me to revisit a favourite tale set in and around an altogether different chapter, that of its origins.

In this tale, published originally as a short story in 1835 by Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of America’s most prolific literary sons, we find our protagonist; Young Goodman Brown in the Puritanical settlement of Salem, Massachusetts.

The author has the very aptly named Goodman choose nightfall to set upon an unspecified task that will lead him through the dark of the surrounding woods and ultimately, the even darker machinations of his mind. He does this despite the protests of his wife, Faith, who has also been named rather purposefully. Faith pleads with him not to abandon her, as she is afraid that the night, as Goodman will soon discover, can hold many terrors.

Goodman steadfastly holds on to the belief that his work must continue nonetheless. A belief that is quickly tested as spectres of his fellow settlers begin to meet him in the dark through the gaps of the gnarled trees, or inhumanly hover above him in the night against a pale moon. Shaken by the visitations he has endured, Goodman is soon completely overcome with terror as he realises that he has stumbled upon a Witches’ Sabbath, one attended by none other than the entirety of his townsfolk, including his young wife.

The people he has come to live and associate with now intend to initiate them as part of their ritual; it seems Goodman and his wife are the last remaining souls to be let into a secret that everybody has thus far been privy to.

An intriguing satire of early American society, Hawthorne’s stories and novels are often cited as being critical of lofty puritanical beliefs and the unattainable ideals he was exposed to in his formative years.

This renunciation is perhaps not a surprise, given the close family connection carried by Hawthorne to the Salem Witch Trials that took place not much more than a century before the story was published. However, as with any good moral tale, its stark warnings and lessons transcend time period.

Most of what Hawthorne is examining will more than likely relate to anybody who has at some point or another become disenfranchised or disappointed when the common consciousness has been altered or has been presented in a different light. The shock of the realisation that words spoken in the cold light of day, may not match the actions performed under cover of night. In any case, there is sure to be something that will resonate with any reader of this insightful allegory.