“Young Goodman Brown” tells the story of a Puritan man who loses faith in humankind after he thinks he witnesses his wife and respected members of his town participating in a Black Mass. His experience dooms him to a life of gloom and mistrust.
Guilt vs. Innocence
Hawthorne presents Young Goodman Brown’s evening of diabolical revelry as the first and last fling with evil the inexperienced young man ever has. Early in the story, Brown says: “after this one night I’ll cling to [Faith’s] skirts and follow her to heaven.” He believes Faith is an “angel” and one of the Puritan elect who is destined for heaven.
Unfortunately, Brown’s experience in the forest makes him reject his previous conviction of the prevailing power of good. He instead embraces the Devil’s claim—”Evil is the nature of mankind”— by crying out “Come, devil: for to thee . . . Read More
“Young Goodman Brown” tells the tale of a young Puritan man drawn into a covenant with the Devil, which he adamantly tries to resist. His illusions about the goodness of society are crushed when he discovers that many of his fellow townspeople, including religious leaders and his wife, are attending the same Black Mass.
“Young Goodman Brown” takes the form of an allegory. An allegory uses symbolic elements to represent various human characteristics and situations. Brown represents Everyman (“Goodman” was a title for those under the social rank of”gentleman”) while Faith represents his faith in humanity and society. In leaving his wife, Brown forsakes his belief in the godliness of humanity. He immediately enters a wood”lonely as could be” that is enshrouded in a “deep dusk.” These woods are the physical location in which Brown explores his doubts and . . . Read More
Faith Brown serves an allegorical purpose in this story. It is Faith that Brown leaves behind, presumably for one night, in order to keep his appointment with the Devil. Explaining to the old man why he is late Brown says, “Faith kept me back a while.” She represents the force of good in the world. Thus, when Brown perceives that she too has been corrupted, he shouts “My Faith is gone!” and rushes madly toward the witches’s gathering.
The pink ribbons that decorate Faith’s cap have drawn more critical attention than any other symbol in the story. On one hand they have been said to represent female sexuality, while on the other, innocence. Or, they may merely signify the ornament of a sweet and cheerful wife. Whatever their purpose, Faith’s pink ribbons are integral to the story’s structure. They are mentioned three times: at the beginning when Brown is leaving Faith behind, . . . Read More
In 1913, more than twenty years after the first publication of”The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote that she devised the story, “to save people from being driven crazy.” Gilman had suffered a near mental breakdown herself, and had been prescribed a rest treatment very similar to that prescribed to the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” For Gilman, the act of resuming her normal life, which certainly included writing, was what restored her health. Though we don’t know what became of Gilman’s narrator, we can chronicle Gilman’s own life after her near mental breakdown. If Gilman’s narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” regressed into her insanity, Gilman certainly did not; unlike the narrator she created, she made her voice heard. She pursued her career as a writer and lecturer, and she wrote works of theory and social commentary that brought her international fame. Though she concentrated on . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” was written and published in 1892. The last three decades of the nineteenth century comprised a period of growth, development, and expansion for the United States. Following the Civil War, which ended in 1865, the United States entered the era of Reconstruction, which lasted until 1877. There were many social and cultural changes during this period. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1892) expounded his theory of evolution, and further incited controversy over women’s roles and issues. His theory of evolution flouted conventional wisdom, contending that women were actually the hardier and more necessary sex, the one able to preserve the species. Because women were mothers, they were vital to survival. Darwin’s theory was used to promote both sides of what came to be known as the “Woman Question.” Some scientists argued that because women were physiologically hardier, they were capable of being both mothers and . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” tells the story of a woman’s mental breakdown. Suffering from depression following the birth of her first child, the woman is taken to the country by her physician husband, where she is kept in a room decorated with yellow wallpaper that used to be a nursery. Instructed by her husband not to engage in any intellectual activity and to get total bed rest, the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper until, at the end of the story, she goes insane.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” takes place in a country house that is located about three miles from the nearest village. Although the house is large and is surrounded by hedges, a garden, and servants’ quarters, the narrator notes that the house and its grounds have fallen into a slight state of disrepair. At the beginning of the story, the narrator is interested in the surrounding scenery as well as the other rooms in the house. As . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is the story of a woman who suffers from depression. Advised by her husband to rest, the woman becomes obsessed by the yellow wallpaper that decorates the room in which she has been confined.
Role of Women
“The Yellow Wallpaper” examines the role of women in nineteenth-century American society, including the relationship between husbands and wives, the economic and social dependence of women on men, and the repression of female individuality and sexuality. The Victorian Age had a profound impact on the social values in the United States. Victorian values stressed that women were to behave demurely and remain within the domestic sphere. Suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her son, the protagonist is advised to get complete bed rest by her husband and brother, despite her suggestions that she would like to write and read. While she does secretly write in a journal, it . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” opens with the musings of an unnamed woman. She, her husband John, their newborn baby, and her sister-in-law have rented a summer house. The narrator is suffering from postpartum depression, and the summer house will function as a place for her to get better. The doctor has prescribed a rest cure of quiet and solitude, with an emphasis on avoiding any form of mental stimulation like reading or writing. The woman notes that the room in which she is staying seems to be geared more for incarceration than rehabilitation. John classifies her merely as “sick,” thereby exhibiting the prevailing attitude of the day, that mental illness in women was not real. Following the doctor’s strict orders, he forbids his wife from doing any type of work and does not allow her to see her baby. The narrator believes that work, excitement, and change would do her good, but her opinion does not matter. She would like to write, which is forbidden, and . . . Read More
Since Joyce Carol Oates’s phenomenal appearance on the literary scene in the mid-1960s, she has certainly been one of America’s most prolific and talked-about writers. The author of more than twenty novels and numerous volumes of short stories, poems, plays, and essays, she has drawn the attention of readers and critics alike. Whatever one’s opinion of Oates’s work may be, it is not possible to ignore her importance as a writer, particularly one who chronicles life in twentieth-century America. Gates has been compared to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Honore de Balzac, and William Faulkner for her efforts to portray an entire culture of people. It is not surprising that she has been compared to these greats, for Oates also tries to explain some of the mysteries of life, believing that a”writer’s job, ideally, is to act as the conscience of his race.”
In her essays on D.H. Lawrence and W.B. Yeats, Oates has expressed her interest in . . . Read More
The Women’s Movement
Interest in women’s equal rights was a subject of great controversy during the early years of Oates’s career leading up to “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” The 1960s and early 1970s marked the escalation of the women’s movement. Economic shifts meant that more women worked outside the home, and Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, resulting in many political battles during the long ratification process, which it ultimately failed. Many men and women reconsidered the traditional balance of power in their relationships, families, and the workplace. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, which made it illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same work. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a woman’s right to privacy allowed for legal abortion in the first trimester of a pregnancy.
Although relations between the sexes had been a . . . Read More