The Dual Nature of Man in "Young Goodman Brown"
By: Davon Ferrara
In "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne tells the story of one man’s loss of faith in the human race. As Goodman Brown travels into the woods one night, he is allowed to see the innermost secrets and desires of the people he once placed upon a pedestal. He sees that human are evil by nature, and this causes him to lose faith in his fellow man. By viewing the story as an allegory, the journey into the woods is associated with the Puritan concept of justification. The Puritans viewed justification, or the means by which one receives the salvation of Christ, as a psychological journey into the "hell (or evil) of the self" (Soler). Goodman Brown fails to complete his process of individuation because he cannot come to terms with the dual Apollonian and Dionysian nature of his being.
Brown’s journey into the woods is a journey of individuation, as he must come to terms with the dark desires of his id. For the Puritans, the dark woods are a symbol "of mistrust of their own corrupt hearts and faculties" (this is also an archetypal symbol), which directly connects the woods with the id (Soler). The city would ideally be their civilized, perfectly moral world of the superego. The actual journey is the means by which the superego and id come to terms, and would represent the ego. Just as Brown describes his journey to Faith as something that "must needs be done ‘twixt now and sunrise" (Hawthorne 24), all human beings must make this same journey into the dark to complete the process of individuation. This journey must also take place in the dark because the dark is associated with the subconscious by its connection with dreams.
This process of individuation and dreams is closely associated with Apollo, as well is the concepts of restraining one’s desires. Nietzsche wrote:
But we must also include in our image of Apollo that delicate boundary which the dream image must not overstep lest it have a pathological effect (in which case mere appearance would deceive us as if it were crude reality). We must keep in mind that measured restraint, that freedom from the wilder emotions, that calm of the sculptor god…we might call Apollo himself the glorious divine image of the principium individuationis…(15-16)
Apollo is seen as the ordered, civilized part of human nature.
Freud believed that dreams held the key to the subconscious processes. Since individuation is mostly a subconscious occurrence, it would show up in a person’s dreams. The question of dreams appears at both the beginning and the end of "Young Goodman Brown." Faith begs her husband to put off his journey into the woods because she is afraid of the dreams that she would have that night. Since Faith is the personification of Goodman Brown’s religious faith, she is strongly connected to the moral superego. When Brown journeys into the subconscious, his superego loses control. As he enters this dream state, he can no longer tell what is real or unreal. His id is allowed to project itself into the conscious part of his psyche. In doing so, he not only sees his own sinfulness, but the sinfulness of others.
Terence Martin writes "The question proposed to Goodman Brown is into which of these categories [dream or reality] good and evil belong (83). Later he adds "The devil introduces a further notion of a dream by saying that Goodman Brown and Faith ‘had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream’" (83). Because doubt as to what was real or a dream is left in Brown’s mind after the journey, it casts a shadow over the way he perceives everyone else in the town. Are they really good people or evil as the dream suggests? Brown cannot see them as having both good and evil natures. In the morning, he again questions whether he was dreaming or not, but the damage had already been done.
While in the woods he sees all the people of the town mingling together, including those labeled as sinners. He hears them singing a hymn that "expressed all that our nature can conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more" (Hawthorne 32). The common aspect of sin has brought everyone together into a "loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked" (Hawthorne 32). In a way, all the people were "intoxicated" with their sin. This connects the woods and the satanic congregation to the Dionysian side of human nature. Dionysus is associated with intoxication and the letting go of one’s restraints. Again, by applying Nietzsche, we can gain some insight into what happens to Goodman Brown in the woods. When one lets go of the Apollonian aspect of human nature by way of receiving a shock to their senses, the process of individuation breaks down. These is then a sudden feeling of terror, but at the same time there is a "blissful ecstasy" that comes up from the Dionysian aspect of the self (Nietzsche 16). Brown received a shock upon learning about the evil in his fellow Man, especially the Church leaders. His biggest shock came when he realized that his own Faith was also tainted. The sense of brotherhood he felt with the congregation was a result of the Dionysian. However, before he could join the rest of the human race in that brotherhood, he rejects the Dionysian, and thus rejects his fellow man.
The human psyche, however, cannot be just one or the other. The ego must mediate between the two opposing forces. Human nature needs both civilized and instinctual forces in order to function correctly. The result of this repression is that Brown not only separates himself from the dark desires of his unconscious, he now views the rest of the world as being evil. He loses his "Faith," and as a result loses any belief that good exists on the earth: "Come Devil; for to thee this world is given" (Hawthorne 30). The Puritans believed that to be justified, one must let go of his worldly dependence and strive to live a life free of sin (Soler). Thus, Brown separates himself from the world, and loses part of himself in the process. This separation between one’s civil, individual nature and their worldly, habitual nature is at the heart of Apollonian and Dionysian conflict.