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Check Out Our Christian Symbolism Essay

Nathaniel Hawthorne is believed to be one of the most exquisite masters of short story in the history of literature. The significance of Christian symbolism in many Hawthorne’s stories cannot be easily dismissed. At the center of many Hawthorne’s stories is the eternal fight between good and evil, between God and Satan, and between immorality and virtue. Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “Young Goodman Brown” are no exception to this rule. Hawthorne uses excessive symbolism to describe the controversial nature of human strivings in their pursuit of life, meaning and truth. The symbols of garden, flowers, forest and darkness carry profound Christian meanings. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “Young Goodman Brown” are overfilled with numerous Christian symbols, which reinterpret the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, lead the characters to moral failure, isolation, spiritual and physical death, and reflect the author’s concerns about the weakened morality and spiritual disconnections in his society.

Hawthorne’s stories “Young Goodman Brown” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” describe a complex relationship between a man and a woman; although the nature of the relationship between Faith and Brown in “Young Goodman Brown” differs considerably from that between Giovanni and Beatrice in “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, all these characters symbolize the love and subsequent failure of Adam and Eve under the influence of Satan. The story of Brown and Faith in “Young Goodman Brown” is a story of faithful and pure love between a Christian man and a Christian woman. The name Faith symbolizes the purity and faithfulness of Christian relationships, and the pink ribbons on Faith’s cap reflect her innocence and commitment: “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” (“Young Goodman Brown” 1033). The name Brown exemplifies a unique but extremely important antipode to Faith’s innocence and faithfulness. The man fails to maintain his commitment to Faith, although every time he commits adultery Faith is the only person that drives him back home (“Young Goodman Brown” 1034). He is the symbol and embodiment of Adam, whose mind gets poisoned by Satan. As a result, Brown loses his belief in goodness and virtue (McKeithan 95). Likewise, the relationship between Giovanni and Beatrice in “Rappaccini’s Daughter” resembles that of Adam and Eve. However, unlike “Young Goodman Brown”, in “Rappaccini’s Daughter” Hawthorne reverses this relationship. Here, it is Beatrice who embodies Adam’s physical and moral failure, being seduced by her satanic father:

“that garden is cultivated by the own hands of Signor Giacomo Rappaccini, the famous doctor, who, I warrant him, has been heard of as far as Naples. […] Oftentimes you may see the signor doctor at work, and perchance the signora, his daughter, too, gathering the strange flowers that grow in the garden.” (“Rappaccini’s Daughter” 1044)   

These “human” symbols set the stage for the creation and literary evolution of other, non-human Christian symbolism in Hawthorne’s stories.

The non-human symbols used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in “Rappaccini’s Daughter” differ greatly from those used in “Young Goodman Brown”; however, in both stories, the garden with flowers and the forest with darkness symbolize the failure of morality, spirituality and faith in the Biblical Garden of Eden. The garden and poisonous flowers in “Rappaccini’s Daughter” are associated with the Garden of Eden. These allegorical parallels are not accidental, since both Rappaccini’s garden and the Garden of Eden possess the qualities of deception, death and unreality, bordering on moral weakness and spiritual failure (Kloeckner 328). Both gardens have a fountain with a pure water, running peacefully and endlessly (Kloeckner 328). The purple-flowered shrub in the very middle of Rappaccini’s garden completes the picture of the Garden of Eden, like the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil described in the Bible. Bearing in mind that Nathaniel Hawthorne was born in a Puritan family, knew the Bible perfectly well and went to church frequently, the use of Biblical symbols reflects Hawthorne’s religious commitments. Describing Giovanni’s appearance in the garden, Hawthorne makes a perfect reference to the notorious shrub:

“Nor did he fail again to observe, or imagine, an analogy between the beautiful girl and the gorgeous shrub that hung its gemlike flowers over the fountain, - a resemblance which Beatrice seemed to have indulged a fantastic humor in heightening, both by the arrangement of her dress and the selection of its hues.” (“Rappaccini’s Daughter” 1049)

It comes as no surprise that, in the garden, Giovanni eventually meets Satan (Beatrice’s father) who casts death upon the young man. This is also how Brown encounters Satan in the dark forest. As a result, the forest becomes one of the principal Christian symbols in “Young Goodman Brown.” Like Rappaccini’s garden, Brown’s forest is a perfect place for the seduction and the loss of faith to take place. Hawthorne’s forest in “Young Goodman Brown” has no shrubs, but it symbolizes both the beginning and the end of Brown’s spiritual journey: “my mind is made up. Not another step will I budge on this errand. […] is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?” (“Young Goodman Brown” 1036). This is what Young Goodman Brown says when he is offered to take the devil’s staff and move ahead. It would be fair to assume that, in “Young Goodman Brown”, the man in the forest is both the symbol of Satan and the embodiment of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which seduce Brown to give up his Christian faith.

In both stories, failure to withstand the pressure of Satan leads Hawthorne’s characters towards isolation, moral and spiritual death and reflects the author’s concern about the spiritual and religious disconnections in his community. As a result of his encounter with what he considers to be the devil, Young Goodman Brown loses his faith in goodness and virtue and turns into an outcast: “On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, he could not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed strain” (“Young Goodman Brown” 1042). His relations with Faith, a symbol of purity and innocence, and the events in the forest, a symbol of the Garden of Eden, turn his life into a nightmare, exactly the way it happened to Adam in the Bible. In a similar vein, Beatrice who embodies the story of Adam in “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, dies tragically as she is trying to escape the chains of the poisonous morality imposed on her by her father: “To Beatrice, - so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon by Rappaccini’s skill, - as poison had been life, so the powerful antidote was death” (“Rappaccini’s Daughter” 1065). Excessive Christian symbolism in Hawthorne’s stories exposes the moral weakness of the human nature and implies that humans are incapable of distinguishing the truth from seduction and lies.

Symbolism is a common element of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “Young Goodman Brown” are overfilled with Christian symbols that support the themes of morality, religiosity and spirituality in Hawthorne’s writings. These symbols reinterpret the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, lead the characters to moral failure, isolation, spiritual, and physical death and reflect the author’s concern about the spiritual and moral disconnections in his community. The characters of Brown, Faith, Beatrice and Giovanni symbolize the complex but tragic relationships between Adam and Eve in the Bible. In “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, the garden and the shrub symbolize the Biblical Garden of Eden; likewise, the forest and darkness that lead Young Goodman Brown to meet Satan turn the whole story into a Biblical allegory. Christian symbolism in Hawthorne’s stories exposes the moral weakness of the human nature and implies that humans are inherently incapable of distinguishing truth from seduction and lies. The discussed Christian symbols reflect Hawthorne’s Puritan sensitivity to the new norms of morality in the contemporary world. 

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