The Neurosis Of Nathaniel Hawthorne The Neurosis of Nathaniel Hawthorne The influence of Freud’s theory of the dynamics of human personality extends far beyond the discipline of behavioral science, reaching into areas such as humanities, philosophy, and literature. Freud believed that a work of literature is the external expression of the author’s unconscious mind. Therefore, we must treat the work of literature as a dream, then reveal hidden motivations and repressed desires by applying psychoanalytic techniques. In the story “Young Goodman Brown,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, I will explore the use of symbols and repressed images by the author that are conveyed throughout the story. To understand better the approach of psychoanalytic criticism, we must first define a general concept of the theory behind it. Psychoanalytic theory finds its roots in psychoanalysis, the medical technique developed by Sigmund Freud in 1900.
Freud published a book entitled The Interpretation of Dreams that outlined a complete theory of dreams and focused on unconscious mechanisms and their relation to consciousness. Psychoanalysis was born. Although not originally intended to be a school of literary criticism, Freud later began to develop a connection between literature and psychoanalysis. This created a new understanding of the artwork (the literary piece itself), the artist (writers including their writing process), and the audience (readers and their responses). Psychoanalysis is said to have several different meanings. For literary purposes the best definition as described by Robert Mollinger would be “a theory of the mind that can serve as an explanatory model for literature”(31).
Central to Psychoanalysis is the tripartite model. The tripartite model is best described by our textbook Literary Criticism: This model developed by Freud separates the human psyche into three parts, the id, ego, and superego. The id is the source for all psychosexual desires and psychic energy. The id operates on the pleasure principal, demanding immediate satisfaction. The ego is the rational and logical part of the mind.
It operates as a balance or regulator to the id. The final part is the superego, an internal censor that allows people to make moral judgments in light of social pressures. (150-151) Between the id, ego, and superego, exists an ever-changing balance is created. When the ego cannot meet the needs of the id and superego, a neurosis is created: “It is these unresolved conflicts (i.e. neurosis) that Freud seeks to resolve so the patient can return to normalcy.” (Bressler 153) Using this tripartite model is an important element for dream interpretation, which is the basis for my criticism of “Young Goodman Brown” A psychoanalytic criticism of “Young Goodman Brown” will view the entire story as a single dream of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s.
Freud believed that dreams stored hidden repressed sexual desires, anger, rage, guilt, and emotions from the unconscious. Therefore, our psyche recreates these repressed feeling and emotions through our dreams. When the critic analyzes the literature as a dream, he then unlocks the hidden messages, repressed desires, and underlying motivations of the author. Central to the story of Goodman Brown is his curious journey with the stranger. Although the reader is never directly told why Brown meets with the stranger, a psychoanalytic criticism lends a different and unique perspective to his travels. On the surface of the story, the meeting of the two men may be simply seen as chance encounter; however, their characters and actions represent far more. Hawthorne’s writing is very closely related to his conflicts with religion during his life.
Central to his struggle in “Young Goodman Brown” is the conflict with gay and lesbian relationships versus the Puritan church. Hawthorne uses his characters as symbolic images to represent his feeling and thoughts about the religious culture at work during the late 1800’s. No different, the stranger Goodman Brown meets in the woods is a projection of Hawthorne’s conscience through Brown. I hope to demonstrate that Hawthorne’s conscience has created the character of the stranger through a neurosis produced by his unresolved conflict with gay relationships versus his puritan society beliefs. The stranger represents Hawthorne’s struggle with sin, his id’s primary pleasure’s, and the close relation between sin and the devil. Within the first few paragraphs of the story, Brown states, “what a wretch I am to leave her on such an errand .. .but no would kill her to think it ..
after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.” This is a powerful statement about the inner conflict between Brown’s hidden sexual desires and his purpose. Not only does he know his wife would be devastated to find out, but his comment on heaven presents an interesting insight. Brown seems to imply that after this one last night with his lover, he will go back to Faith and live out a heterosexual life, therefore providing a way into heaven. The tension between religion and sexuality in Hawthorne’s life is evident here. Further conflict occurs as the two individuals meet and walk through the woods. The story reveals an underlying consciousness about the severity of sin involved in homosexual relationships. As the two men walk, Goodman Brown begins to tell the man how he will be “the first Brown that ever took this path.” Brown feels that his sexual thoughts have caused him to sin, and that his forefathers would not have done this.
The stranger then tells Brown the actions of his father and grandfather that include murder and the lashing of a woman. The stranger uses these instances to compare not only the severity of his ancestor’s sins to his, but to acknowledge that his forefathers had secrets as well. The encounter with Goody Cloyse also confirms the desire of Goodman Brown to conceal his meeting with this stranger. While the two men are traveling through the woods, they come upon the older woman, whom Brown knows. Furthermore, she happens to be the lady who taught Brown his catechism. Goodman begins to worry that Cloyse will recognize him with this stranger, so he hides behind the trees. Cloyse symbolizes Brown’s religion and partly his conscience.
She is a moral and ethical character whom Goodman believes to walk the “right path” with God. Cloyse is representative of Brown’s past through her instruction of his catechism, and further represents his Puritan beliefs on what is morally and ethically right. The stranger’s actions astonish Brown. He approaches Cloyse and begins a conversation with her. Soon the two are conversing as if they are best of friends.
After the two finish their discussion, Brown rejoins the stranger in disbelief. Now his inner conflict is magnified because of the reminder of his catechism versus the friendship he has just witnessed between Goody Cloyse and the stranger. In Brown’s eyes, the woman whom he thought holy and pure, associated regularly with someone who was evil and unclean. Further symbolic items of significance are Faith’s pink ribbon …