Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories

Young Goodman Brown and Other Hawthorne Short Stories Essay Questions

  1. 1

    In "Young Goodman Brown," was Brown's experience of the witch gathering only a figment of his imagination, a dream, or reality? Support your answer with passages from the text.

    Many passages in the story make the event seem dream-like. For example, the devil's staff appears to take the shape of a snake, Faith's ribbons magically appear in the middle of the forest, and after shouting at Faith to "resist the evil one" Brown suddenly finds himself transported back into the middle of the forest, as if awakening from a nightmare. At the same time, the events of the night affect Brown for the rest of his life, indicating that it had a severe impact on him and implying that at least he believed it was real. It can also be argued that Brown imagined the scene due to his own guilty conscience and that the witch gathering is only an expression of the sin within himself.

  2. 2

    How do you think Brown would have turned out if he had stayed at home that evening? Do you think he would be a happier individual, or just a more naive one?

    Clearly Goodman Brown lived a happier life before entering the forest. He trusted his friends and his wife, Faith, immensely. Yet, he kept secrets from them, and decided to venture into the forest even after Faith asked him to stay. His journey into the forest enlightens him to the sin and hypocrisy within all individuals. Though he emerged from the forest a dark and joyless man, he gained significant knowledge of the complex nature of mankind, demonstrating a crucial tradeoff.

  3. 3

    In "The Birthmark," what does the removal of the birthmark signify? Why does Aylmer insist on eradicating the mark?

    Aylmer is a man of science who has invested his entire life into attaining higher knowledge and exceeding the bounds of nature. Though his wife Georgiana is remarkably beautiful, Aylmer sees the mark on her cheek as a sign of earthly imperfection and a symbol of her capacity for both sin and death. Other lovers believe the birthmark is delightful and mysterious, but to Aylmer's critical eye, it is horrendous. He cannot bear to look at her without cringing, and he is driven to remove it just as he is driven to proceed with many of his past experiments - most of which end in failure.

  4. 4

    In "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," the narrator is deliberately unclear about whether the effects of the liquid are real or imagined. Present your argument with supporting evidence from the text.

    Hawthorne's use of description and diction indicate that perhaps the four old friends only imagined that they had been restored to youth. The mirror, for example, shows the hilarious scene of four old men and one woman dancing about as the characters, drunk on youth, carouse in the study. In another example, the effects of warmth and good humor of returning youth are associated with the properties of alcohol. On the other hand, many descriptions also seem to indicate that a transformation really takes place; each of the Doctor's guests see youth in one another. It is unclear whether it matters if the event was real or imagined; in either case, the subjects of the Doctor's study demonstrate that if given the chance to be young again, they would commit the same follies as before. Old or young, the characters' flawed natures are revealed and remain unchanged.

  5. 5

    Examine the character of Baglioni in "Rappaccini's Daughter." Do you think he is a hypocrite? Does he triumph over his rival, Rappaccini, in the end? Or, does he only undermine his own position?

    Baglioni claims to care for humanity in a way that Rappaccini does not. He asserts that Rappaccini has created poisons that have only brought harm to the world, and believes that Rappaccini's daughter, Beatrice, is a prime example of the Doctor's interest in science over humankind. In the end, however, Baglioni is the one who plants evil thoughts in Giovanni's mind, and uses him to deliver the antidote that eventually kills Beatrice. It is unclear whether Giovanni acts out of a believed "duty" toward humankind or a sinister plot to get even with a long-time rival. As a rival, he succeeds in hurting Rappaccini in the deepest way - by taking away his only beloved daughter. But, as a purported supporter of human life, he achieves the opposite of his moral aim with her death.

  6. 6

    In "The Minister's Black Veil," how does Mr. Hooper treat the people in his congregation after he dons the veil, and what is the significance of his actions toward them?

    Mr. Hooper's actions toward his congregation do not change; he is the same caring and considerate minister he was before he donned the veil. Rather, it is the people who grow uncomfortable with the sight of the veil, and change their reactions to Mr. Hooper. Because Mr. Hooper remains so pure and respectable from the outside, it is clear that the only reason for his congregation's change in attitude is his the veil itself. Their reactions are caused by a mere material object, demonstrating their own shallow and sinful natures.

  7. 7

    In "Ethan Brand," what does Brand believe is the Unpardonable Sin? Is he saved from his sin in the end?

    According to Brand, the Unpardonable Sin "is a sin that grew within my own breast . . .a sin that grew nowhere else! The sin of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims! The only sin that deserves a recompense of immortal agony!" During his quest for higher knowledge, he manipulated others to commit sins, thereby severing his relationship with humankind and with God.

    For a sin to be unpardonable, the sinner must be unrepentant. It is unclear whether Brand indeed repents at the end of his life. He says, "Freely, were it to do again, would I incur the guilt." But, it is possible that Brand's sin was not truly unpardonable - instead, it was only his concept of what was unpardonable. It could have been little more than a show. Before his death, Brand cries, "O mankind, whose brotherhood I have cast off, and trampled thy great heart beneath my feet!" Perhaps this acknowledgement of his sin and lamentation over it purified his soul. The scenery in the mountain the next morning aligns with this theme of redemption, as the clouds seemed "almost as if a mortal man might thus ascend into the heavenly regions." Furthermore, the kiln's interior is bright white; Brand's heart rests inside his skeleton in the form of pure lime. This may indicate that a possible purging of sin occurred.

  8. 8

    In the "Maypole of Merry Mount," which group do you believe is more "good" or "evil" - the Puritans or the Merrymakers?

    Arguments could be made for both sides. Throughout most of the story, the Puritans are painted as cold, grim, and dark figures, who stage an attack on the Merrymakers without provocation. Their punishments for the Merrymakers seem harsh and barbarous, quite at odds with the religious faith they presume to uphold. Their treatment of the Lord and Lady of the May could be seen as compassion, but could also simply be seen as imposing Puritan values onto innocent and impressionable youth.

    On the other hand, the Merrymakers may be strange and silly fellows, but are largely harmless. They do not try to physically confront the Puritans, nor is any description given indicating that they fight back when attacked. Though they may not necessarily be "evil," the story does hint that their mirth is not real, but rather a fabrication, and for this lack of true emotion, they are worse off than the Puritans.

  9. 9

    In "Roger Malvin's Burial," what is the significance of Cyrus's death?

    When Reuben accidentally shoots his own son while hunting, at the exact spot where Roger Malvin died, Reuben's debt is paid. Cyrus is a grand price to pay, as he is Reuben's only son, and is dearly cherished. Cyrus reminds Reuben of his younger self, before he was destroyed by guilt. Cyrus's death served to expiate Reuben's sin; his curse was gone, but at a very high price. Cyrus's death ends the cycle of sin.

  10. 10

    In "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," why does Robin laugh at his relative when he sees the poor Major tarred and feathered?

    Robin's laughter seems to be spontaneous, as he is swept up in the tumult of the crowd. However, on closer inspection, the narrator tells us that Robin is a shrewd youth, and he realizes, after the treatment he has endured the whole night, that if he does not laugh, he may face the same fate as his relative. Contrary to his original belief, his kinsman is not a honored figure but rather a humiliated public official. His actions, however, show that he cares more for survival than for loyalty to his family member. His companion sees his laughter as a severing of ties and also as an act of independence, and therefore suggests that Robin stay behind and survive without the help of his kinsman.

  11. 11

    What do you think happens at the end of "Wakefield". Is Mr. Wakefield's reunion with his wife a happy one?"

    Hawthorne's inspiration for this story comes from a real-life event he recalls reading in a newspaper. The man on whom Mr. Wakefield is based, like his character, returns home following a mysterious 20 year absence. Supposedly, the real man lived the rest of his years as a loving husband. In examining the man's motivations through Mr. Wakefield, Hawthorne is more ambiguous as to his character's fate. He imagines a rainy scene and supposes that the decision to reenter his home - and his life - was surely not premeditated. It is Wakefield's longing for his wife, the warmth of his home and the habits of his old life that causes him to cross the threshold. Mrs. Wakefield failed to recognize her husband 10 years earlier; in their advanced age, it is unclear whether or not she would believe this man - now a stranger to her - is her presumed-dead husband. Both a happy and an unhappy reunion are possible. Hawthorne hints that the "consequences" of Wakefield's actions are unavoidable, so he may be cast aside by his jilted wife. But Hawthorne paints Wakefield's longing so vividly, it is entirely possible that his wife's thrill over her husband being alive may erase her years of sorrow.