The two short stories “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor have characters that are engulfed in evil from all ends. Religious principles as perceived by them, fail to deter them from choosing the wrong priorities. They strongly believe that whatever they do is correct. The darkness often mentioned in the stories is symbolic of their uncertain approach to life and their utter confusion about the right values. Brown’s wandering in the dark forest indicates his choice of the evil path and he inducts many people to his evil brotherhood and finally, his surrender to the forces of darkness is total. O’Connor’s character of a grandmother is somewhat secular but she is not willing to give any room to the viewpoints of others, except in her dying moments. Misfit is true to his name and he is a misfit in every area of life. He is a perfect Godless man in a Godless society. The authors, through clever articulations, point out, when the spiritual principles are misunderstood, how their misapplication results in an individual turning directionless and destination-less and it finally leads one to disastrous consequences.
Flannery OConnor: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
Flannery O’ Connor understands the working of the pairs of opposites-good and evil- well, and articulates how they function in tandem to outsmart the influence of each other, in the story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. How an individual succumbs to evil and then goes through the divine relationship. But the level of progression of each character is different and they react to situations as per their understanding of the challenges they face, especially the Grandmother. D. N. Leonard writes, “ For her grotesque character was not an escape from realism, but rather an attempt to achieve a kind of spiritual super-realism since both her experience and orthodoxy taught her that all humans are morally grotesque”.(1983) According to O’Connor, the absence of faith is the root cause of all evils and suffering of humanity and to remain connected to the Divine Power is the final solution to find permanent happiness. O’Connor advises humankind to make a fight out of life with Christ in the heart which is more important than the cross on the neck. She is a classic Catholic wedded to modern consciousness. Flannery controls the readers through the strength of the topic and beauty of the language which is so essential to explain the messages related to the subject of divinity vs. evil. She is neither preachy not self-righteous. She has a perfect understanding of Roman Catholicism and its mysticism.
Flannery makes her characters understand that destiny plays its part in the shape of things in one’s life. Man is also the creator of his destiny as well as the victim. Hand of God is always there to help an individual, but his own acts also play the role. If such actions are good, the sailing in life is smooth, but if the intentions and judgments are wrong and filled with prejudices, the concerned individual has to suffer the consequences. Two characters in the story merit special discussion. One is the grandmother and the other is the Misfit. Flannery writes, how the grandmother has lost faith in the present generation as she recalls the good old days. “In my time,” said the grandmother, folding her thin veined fingers, “children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else. People did right then”. (359)The grandmother has great faith in the traditional values and how the children should be brought up and she gives her opinioned statement and the author writes, “The children have been to Florida before. You all ought to take them somewhere else for a change so they would see different parts of the world and be broad. They never have been to east Tennessee”. (357)The level of understanding of Misfit is entirely different and he has authored his own articles of faith for him. Flannery terms Misfit a “prophet gone wrong.” He doesn’t care for faith in the traditional sense and that is totally absent in his personality. By comparing the traits of these characters, the author highlights the theme of the generation gap and the change in their belief systems. A family theme and a religious theme running through the story concurrently. Conditions of faith and conditions of absence faith function in the lives of her characters, like alternative beats of the same heart.
Nathaniel Hawthorne: “Young Goodman Brown”
Many external and internal factors change the perspectives, as one passes through different stages in life. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, “Young Goodman Brown”, (1835) he articulates his points through imagery and symbolism integrated within the story, at the appropriate turning points. The first sentence is full of such expressions.
The author writes Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset, into the street of Salem village, but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to exchange a parting kiss with his young 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 (315).
The words Goodman, Faith, and forest are symbolic and convey significant meanings.
A path in life is either good or evil. Life represents Goodman’s life and he treads the same without his wife. Faith and forest symbolize traversing the journey of life. Forest is also symbolic of darkness and the path through the forest is always full of uncertainties. He had opted for the dark dreary road gloomy in structure and appearance, with a narrow path to squeeze through with no precise destination. Gradually its impact is on the decrease as he continues his walk through the forest. The symbolism of negative tendencies and their influence on his forest life is evident. Forest indicates the evil influences and Goodman is surrounded by evil of which he is not aware of, as indicated at the beginning of the story. His wife Faith represents two things. Firstly, a woman in the normal sense of the term and secondly his faith in religion! Norman H. Hostetler writes, “Although Hawthorne’s narrator exists outside the storyline, the tension between the conflicting interpretations of experience provided by the narrator and Goodman Brown from their different points of view creates the basic ironic tone of the work”(1982). Goodman Brown constantly broods whether to renounce his religion to join the devil. After one night evil-doing, he assures his wife Faith that he will return and with her co-operation, he will ascend to heaven. When ultimately even Faith’s purity dissolves, Brown loses the opportunity to resist the devil and redeem his faith. Through symbolism and imagery, the author crafts a meaningful story to stress the problems of life.
Compare and contrast stories.
The two short stories “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor have characters that let their lives to be changed by the threat of evil. A detour taken by the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” creates serious problems, while the wrong religious route followed by “Young Goodman Brown” lands him mess and uncertainty. Although Brown, The Misfit, and the Grandmother have dissimilar approaches and take different routes to confront evil, they finally go astray and end up secluded from mainstream society. Evil pervades through both stories as progression is made through the wrong paths. The symbolism in both stories represents a lack of faith and death. Brown is an ideal case of how ascertaining the reality of evil brings one to view the world like a cynic. The loneliness and confusion Brown feels represent life without God, and in that spiritual void Satan overtakes his inner world and he remains engulfed by evil from all ends. The Grandmother’s moral leadership for the family proves disastrous. Misfit is portrayed as an evil-incarnation and he is unable to visualize good anywhere.
Both stories illustrate how misplaced religious behavior is evil. While different in man details, both stories show how deserting one’s Christian faith can let evil to dominate their lives. The storyline and characterization in both stories are based on Christian beliefs. The belief systems are strongly articulated by Hawthorne, whereas the same beliefs have a secular and sociological touch with O’Connor. Both the authors write well, and evoke strong irreligious sentiments, bordering fanaticism. Of the two, Hawthorne makes the strong thematic statement. Both the stories explore the religious hypocrisy of the time in clear terms.
Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature: Reading, Thinking, and
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Hostetler, Norman H. “Narrative Structure and Theme in ‘Young Goodman Brown’”. The Journal of
Narrative Technique Vol. 12, No. 3, 1982: Print
Leonard, D.N. “Experiencing Flannery O’ Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”. Interpretations Vol.14,No.2, 1983: Print