Irony in “Young Goodman Brown”
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale “Young Goodman Brown” is replete, is saturated, with irony. This essay will amply illustrate the validity of this statement.
At the outset of the story a young Puritan husband departs at sunset from his young Puritan wife, “And Faith, as the wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap, while she called to Goodman Brown.” The author says that Faith is “aptly named,” an ironic statement since she, later in the evening, is being received into the assembly of devil-worshippers as a new convert to the evil group. Not only is her name ironic, but also the description of her as “pretty,” and as wearing “pink ribbons” (an indication of youthful innocence and a cheerful outlook on life). In a futile attempt to persuade Goodman to remain home, Faith says: “A lone woman is troubled with such dreams and such thoughts, that she's afeard of herself, sometimes. Pray, tarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year!" Her self-description as “afeard of herself” seems ironic since she is not afraid later in the evening to venture into the darkest depth of the forest to indulge in satanic practices.
Goodman is just as ironic in his speech as his wife. He trys to assuage Faith’s troubled feelings by saying:
"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already, and we but three months married!"
Goodman’s affectionate appelation “my love” is ironicaly contradicted by his lie to her in the same sentence, saying that he must tarry away from her this one night. That he should criticize Faith in the very next sentence for doubting his intentions is, of course, ironic since his intentions are thoroughly reprehensible.
Though she is a beginning devil-worshipper, Faith’s response to her husband uses the very language of a Puritan minister: "Then God bless you!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons, "and may you find all well, when you come back." Quite ironic. Likewise Goodman’s response to Faith is that of a devout Puritan sitting in the front row at church on Sunday morning: "Amen!" cried Goodman Brown. "Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee." And his intentions are quite as evil as hers.
As Goodman turns the corner at the meeting-house, his remorseful thoughts exalt the goodness of his wife: "What a wretch am I, to leave her on such an errand! She talks of
dreams, too. Methought, as she spoke, there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But, no, no! 'twould kill her to think it. Well; she's a blessed angel on earth; and after this one...