Faith and Frivolity This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

February 4, 2012
Throughout history, man has attempted to grasp concepts of life and death that are incomprehensible without great insight, and as seen by some, impossible to understand without divine intervention or explanation. Each culture has formulated a religion, lore, or mythology with the hope of explaining the obscurities of their lives and the mysteries of death. People found their gods, all powerful beings that held the keys to answering these grave and crucial questions, as means of rationalization for what man could not comprehend. Polytheistic cultures have many gods, each holding a specific purpose, beholding authority over one aspect of life such as the weather or the sea. Monotheistic cultures have only one god, a god that had control over all these elements, and all the workings of man. But even after these gods were discovered by man, there were still not explanations for all the happenings of the world. The good could be explained, but evil had no master; and so an opposite force found its way into the world and into the hearts and minds of man, forcing himself upon them, feeding on their fear and lack of understanding. The “devil”, “Satan”, “demon”, “fiend”, “lord of hell” and “serpent” are all cultural names for this defender of evil; names that have grown in power and stature for years since their creation. He was called upon to explain evil, but instead commands it, eclipsing man in fear of him. All walks of life from all eras have a “god” and a “devil”, the embodiments of good and evil. Nathaniel Hawthorne and Joyce Carol Oates, both American authors from very different periods in history, portray the devil through short stories in ways that prove his deftness and versatility, characteristics that leave man in confusion and trepidation of what he is and what he stands for. In both “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates, and “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the devil’s power exists in his anonymity and his alluring ability to adapt in ways by which to fulfill the needs of his victims. The religious aspects of these two stories are very apparent, though clothed by metaphors and allegories, and masked by the everyday facets of life.

The first religious aspect that both stories contain is the portrayal of the devil. In “Young Goodman Brown”, the devil is portrayed in various ways, first referred to as “the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire” (Hawthorne 2). This description helps the protagonist, Goodman Brown, identify with the devil, as they are both dressed decently and assigned to a grave purpose. He is also called Brown’s “fellow-traveller”, which shows that they are linked by a common purpose (Hawthorne 2). Later, the devil is a “traveler with a twisted staff”, a description that lends to the idea that the man following Brown is well versed in and well worn by the world (Hawthorne 3). To further establish a relationship with Brown, the devil describes himself as a “friend” who has been “well acquainted” with Brown’s family, having helped all the men of the lineage out of difficult situations (Hawthorne 3). In Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” the devil is also referred to the friend of Connie, the main character; in this case, his name is actually Arnold Friend. Arnold also has a way of making himself identifiable and relatable by saying “Don’t you know I’m your friend?” and “I’m your own age” to Connie (Oates 4). Both personages of the devil displayed in these stories use their knowledge of the main characters’ families to reel them in. As previously mentioned, the “traveler” in “Young Goodman Brown” latches on to Brown by describing how well he was acquainted with Brown’s father and grandfather and all the men of his line thereafter. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”, Arnold Friend says, “I know your parents and sister…and I know who you were with last night, and your best girl friend’s name is Betty” (Oates 4). Both claims frighten the central characters, but also convince them of the devil’s validity. Once the devil has taken hold of Connie and Brown, he leads them to their “deaths”: a spiritual death for Brown and a death of an unknown nature for Connie. Both Connie and Brown are haunted by their devils; Connie is haunted by Arnold even before she has interacted with him, whereas Brown is haunted after he flees from the devil. Neither can escape the hold the devil has over them.

Another religious reference that is present in both stories is sin. Both Connie and Brown are approached by sin, and both accept it into their lives, though Brown is far more begrudging of its presence than Connie is. Brown feels lost in his sin, the acts of which “may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and thick boughs [of the forest] ahead” (Hawthorne 1). Brown conceals his wrongdoings from the rest of the world by hiding them deep within the forest near his home; Hawthorne’s description of how Brown shadows his transgressions alludes to the consuming affect of sin on man. Brown feels guilty and attempts to rationalize what he plans to do by setting off “with this excellent resolve for the future [in which he] felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose” (Hawthorne 1). Despite his heavy guilt, Brown tries to shrug it off, viewing his sin as merely a means to a righteous end. As the story progresses, however, Brown has “scruples, touching the matter thou wot’st of”, showing how very wary he is of committing sin (Hawthorne 2). Connie is not so concerned with the lack of morality in her actions despite how often her mother criticizes her for her many flaws, suggesting that she “stop gawking at [her] self” and cease to be so vain (Oates 1). Connie is not only vain, but also two-faced, explained by Oates in that “everything about her had two sides to it”, and promiscuous, having “spent three hours with him [a boy she met one night]…down an alley a mile or so away”, qualities she sees no fault in (Oates 1, 2). Despite her seeming indifference towards her many immoral activities, Connie does show remorse as Brown did, depicted in her own words when she thinks to herself that “it was maybe cruel to fool her [mother] so much” (Oates 2). Unfortunately, notwithstanding Brown’s acknowledgement of the fact that the further he journeys into sin, the harder it will be to return to righteousness displayed by his protest of “too far, too far!”, both Connie and Brown discover that they “think better of this [their sin] by-and-by” (Hawthorne 5).

The evil that both Connie and Goodman Brown experience is not the only religious reference of these stories, for goodness is also depicted, often floating idly in the background but certainly ever-present. Throughout all the sin that Connie and Brown have immersed themselves in, God, in the form of the church, never abandons them; he is constantly with them, warning them of what will come from the evil they are toying with. Though Brown is far from God during his interactions with the devil at his “communion” ceremony, when he has given up on Faith and rebelled against all righteousness, still “the wind toll[s] like a distant church bell,” showing Brown that God is still with him (Hawthorne 7). Even Connie, who seems farther from God than Brown, utters Christ’s name during her times of frustration and fear, taking refuge in the diner near her home that reminds her of their church. The church in “Young Goodman Brown”, however, is more of a comforting reminder than anything, for “he hear[s] the swell of what seem[s] a hymn, rolling solemnly in the distance”, a sound that calls him home to God (Hawthorne 7). Sadly, in both stories, the church is not merely a beacon of hope. In “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” none of Connie’s family members “bothered with church” and the diner she views as a church is overrun with flies, symbols of death and of the devil (Oates 2). Hawthorne also shows that the church is as corrupt as any other place and is no longer holy by saying through the devil that “by the sympathy of your human hearts for sin, ye shall scent out all the places—whether in church…”; this refers to the sin that is present even in hearts that worship the Lord and yearn for communion with Him (Hawthorne 8). And so, even in reference to the godliness that is present in church, the devil still is shown to have power.

Oates and Hawthorne utilize metaphorical aspects of writing to represent an assortment of religious components, inclusive of the devil, sin, and the church. Though both authors embody these aspects in very different manners, neither is unsuccessful in their portrayal of a fearsome enemy of God, light, and goodness. Oates and Hawthorne explain how the devil can exist in nearly all situations, disguised as something, anything, familiar to his victim. They show that evil works mysteriously and sneakily, seeping into any foothold it is given in the lives of men and women of the world. Both writers show how man is taken by the devil: through his curiosity of, and addiction to, marveling at and being part of the unknown.

Works Cited
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. "Young Goodman Brown." Nathaniel Hawthorne. Mosses from an Old
Manse. Centenary Edition, Volume X. J. Donald Crowley. Boston: Ohio State University
Press, 1835.
Oates, Joyce Carol. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”. Unknown. Unknown. Unknown: Unknown, Unknown.

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