Among the most discussed topics have always been conformity and people’s weaknesses. The story, written by Hawthorne, The Goodman Brown, and The Lottery, by Jackson, explore these themes. Hawthorne depicted themes like good against evil, social lack of morality, and the loss of identity to show the central character’s conflict between his religion and his desire to sin. Jackson illuminated the blind conformity and maintenance of old traditions. However, while depicting different realities and circumstances, both stories have similarities in themes.
The Goodman Brown
In The Goodman Brown, the first theme, hypocrisy of people, can be seen by the community. The story is set in Salem, where the puritan community attempted to establish a Christian society with rigid values and pious ideals, but also where the historic witch trials occurred (Hawthorne, 2012). The Puritans thought that specific individuals were chosen by God to be sent to heaven and may be identified by their morals and piety.
Another theme is faith and purity that are being eroded. The narration tells the story of Goodman Brown, a decent young person who loses his naïve confidence in religion. The protagonist loses his innocence following a terrible nightmare in which he walks into a gloomy woodland (Hawthorne, 2012). There he finds all of the individuals he had believed devoted throughout his life gathering around a fire at a witches’ conversion ritual presided over by Satan.
Young Goodman Brown serves as a metaphor for man’s fall, which Hawthorne uses to demonstrate what he regards as the innate fragility and hypocrisy in Christianity. The author creates a narrative about a man who is seduced by the devil and falls prey due to his desire and his religion’s fragility. Thus, Hawthorne’s purpose is to show that any man can show a sign of weakness, and there is no need to let conformity ruin people’s lives or impose old values and beliefs.
As for a way to communicate a message, the author mostly used allegory, a literary device. An allegory in the story is employed as an element to illustrate different human qualities and moral significance. Faith, the wife of Brown, represents the protagonist’s trust in the nation and the whole of humanity, while the main character symbolizes every man. Brown abandons his faith in humanity’s virtue by leaving his wife. The man instantly reaches loneliness in the forest engulfed him in deep gloom. This forest reflects Brown’s nightmare since it is the actual environment where he thinks about his conflicting impulses.
While Hawthorne shows a painful path of Brown and his pursuing of individual desires, Jackson depicts the other side, conformist society, and their weaknesses. The central theme of The Lottery, written by Jackson, is the blind conformity of society. The residents of the village are cautious of being different from the crowd. This is alluded to early in the story when the reader is told that the recently graduated students were uncomfortable with the sense of independence (Jackson, 2008). The students were more comfortable with the classroom context and routine.
There is another example of people’s conformity that can be seen through the lottery tradition. Even though many people have qualms about the lottery, nobody really pushes for its abolition. Everybody embraces the lottery even when the purpose behind it has faded from their minds. “Used to be a saying about ‘Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,” explains Old Man Warner (Jackson, 2008, p. 9). Although this is not a typical comment, the man recalls why the lottery was established. Thus, it is solely practiced as a custom by modern residents, who do not believe it has any practical use. Regardless, no one dares to take a position against the movement and fear being shunned.
The author’s goal throughout the story is to build a concept that underlines the risk of obeying pointless tradition without considering the repercussions through the use of symbolism. The black box is symbolic in the story. Despite the fact that it is old and worn, the people are reluctant or otherwise unable to change it, the same as they are hesitant to discontinue participation in the lottery. Moreover, it can be claimed that Jackson makes considerable use of name symbolism in the novel. Mr. Summers’ name, for instance, is believed to reflect levity, while Mr. Graves’ name is thought to symbolize sorrow (Mon, 2020). Delacroix, meaning cross could indicate atonement due to its allusion to Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.
Hence, Hawthorne’s The Goodman Brown and Jackson’s The Lottery show different sides of the same situation, wherein in one story, a man follows his desires, and in another, people continue to follow the rules blindly. Both stories share similar themes and purposes, conveying the message that people will always have a bit of evil in them, and there is no reason to follow the crowd. Additionally, both stories used symbolism to make the message stronger. In The Goodman Brown, the symbolism can be seen in characters’ names, where Faith means belief in humanity, and Brown symbolizes every man. In The Lottery, symbolism can be seen in the black box that people refuse to replace despite its condition.
Hawthorne, N. (2012). Young Goodman Brown and other short stories. Dover Publications.
Jackson, S. (2008). The lottery. Creative Education.
Mon, T.T. (2020). Exploring actions and personality of the characters in the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Dagon University Research Journal, 11, 16-25.