Nathaniel Hawthorne is noted for his religious connotations in his works. Young Goodman Brown, The Minister’s Black Veil and The Birthmark is three exemplary stories. His writing technique uses ambiguity in that the reader is opened to many different ways of interpretation. In respect to religious methodology the main character’s of these short stories all encounter some sort of revelation.
In Young Goodman Brown the main character leaves his pure wife Faith adorned in pink ribbons symbolizing her innocent nature on a short but very intriguing journey. His walk begins in the woods adjacent to Salem Village, and with him he is accompanied by a devilish character. It seems unlikely that Goodman Brown would be associating with shady man, as he knew that Goodman Brown was a devout Puritan and bared such a respectable name. “I have been well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritan’s.” (Hawthorne 312) This being said by the older man, Brown decided reluctantly to move on. He knows whom he is dealing with but still ventures on. In the back of his mind he was always thinking of Faith, his wife, and “faith” the most important thing in a Puritan’s life. Hawthorne uses the word faith as a symbol that Brown must turn around and come back to his wife and his faith. He explains “But were I to go on with thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem Village?” (Hawthorne 313) Young Goodman is seeing that his involvement with this man was wrong and he must leave, but still he continues on after seeing the encounter the old man had with Goody Cloyse. Goody screeched “The devil!” upon meeting the shady man. She herself was an evil woman in the eyes of Brown. He couldn’t believe it was happening because she was such a pious and well respected Puritan. All that Brown can say to his acquaintance is “That old woman taught me my catechism.” (Hawthorne 313)
Through his journey with the devil Goodman brown witnesses more and more hideous and unholy sights and sounds. The forest becomes a nightmare to the young man and he still proceeds on. He sees his honorable minister and the good deacon traveling along the path speaking of a meeting in the forest. Brown doesn’t understand knowing that a meeting was never held out there. He proceeds on and finally comes to this wretched place. The horrid sounds fill his ears and boggle his mind. The congregation of his beloved church is there before the altar of a flaming rock surrounded by flame engulfed trees. But one person is missing, Faith. A figure escorts a fair damsel to the altar. The devil makes a speech and tells the assembly that evil is the nature of mankind and the only thing that has importance. The young man is summoned to the altar and we see that the lady was Faith. They are the two whom have not gone to the dark side. His last words before Faith is baptized into darkness are “look up to heaven, and resist the wicked one.” But if Faith heard his cry or not he does not know because after uttering those words he finds himself in the calm woods. He staggers back to town and is disgusted at his community. He shuns his congregation and even his own wife makes him shudder. He lost his faith and doesn’t have any belief in righteousness anymore. He dies a lonely and gloomy man.
The Minister’s Black Veil involves a minister by the name of Mr. Hooper. He had one peculiarity about him. He wore a black veil over his face. Covering his whole face from his forehead down excluding the eyes. His congregation didn’t approve of this too much. They built in their minds a reason for this veil because Mr. Hooper never explained why till his deathbed. Even his love couldn’t persuade him to show his face to her. He tried to explain to her it was merely a mortal veil and that it wasn’t for eternity but she was too frightened by it and left him nonetheless. He was too ashamed and vowed to never remove it. Mr. Hopper though did not hide totally behind this veil he still spoke very kindly to people and carried out his daily activities like he had done before. Over time this veil became more then a simple piece of crepe paper. The townspeople and visitors made it a key factor in the town. It became a gossip issue for everyone and was readily spoke of. They considered him mad or that he was so ashamed of a horrid deed that he could never show his face again. People ran and shuttered from him all because of his black veil. On his deathbed he explained that all should have a black veil because we live in sin. Mr. Hooper simply decided to wear his veil. He was buried in his veil and got his wish to never show his human face.
In this story a man is persecuted for his belief but if the people had looked past the veil they would have realized what great and righteous a man Mr. Hooper truly was.
Finally, The Birthmark is a story of perfection and what is pure beauty. Georgiana was married to a philosopher and man of chemistry, Aylmer. Georgiana was a beautiful and breathtaking woman. The only imperfection about her was a crimson hand shaped birthmark on her right cheek. Her husband couldn’t get over it. It made him shudder and cringe with just one sight of it. He would tell her she would be perfect if she were to have it removed. Some called it a sign of beauty but to Aylmer it was an imperfection on his almost perfect wife.
He wanted so badly to remove it that it started to drive the both of them mad. She finally gave in and let him remove it. Upon removing the blemish though it freed the perfect angel inside of her and caused his wife to pass on. The closest thing to earthly perfection was freed.
These stories have all had key religious symbolism in them. First in Young Goodman Brown, the young man had a struggle with good and evil. HE desperately wanted to go back to his faith but seeing all of his contemporaries living a life of darkness caused him to assume that all he knew was wrong and that evil was taking over the world. He felt that righteousness was lost and the devil had taken over.
The Minister’s Black Veil symbolized how to show your sins to others and you personally deal with them. Mr. Hooper was Christ like in that in a way he was wearing a veil for all mankind’s’ sins.