The Style in “Young Goodman Brown”
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story or tale, “Young Goodman Brown,” is an interesting example of the multi-faceted style of the author, which will be discussed in this essay.
Edgar Allan Poe in “Twice-Told Tales - A Review,” which appeared in Graham's Magazine in May, 1842, comments on Hawthorne’s “originality,” and “tranquil and subdued manner” which characterize his style:
The Essays of Hawthorne have much of the character of Irving, with more of originality, and less of finish; while, compared with the Spectator, they have a vast superiority at all points. The Spectator, Mr. Irving, and Mr. Hawthorne have in common ...view middle of the document...
unlike Shakespeare, who was forced to the contrary course by circumstances, Hawthorne (either from simple disinclination, or else from inaptitude) refrains from all the popularizing noise and show of broad farce, and blood-besmeared tragedy; content with the still, rich utterances of a great intellect in repose, and which sends
few thoughts into circulation, except they be arterialized at his large warm lungs, and expanded in his honest heart.
How beautifully does this critic capture the basic attitude of Hawthorne, who avoids the “noise and show” and emphasizes his “rich utterances.” Could Hawthorne’s “rich uterances” be the reason for Henry Seidel Canby in “A Skeptic Incompatible with His Time and His Past” to talk about the “dignity” of his style? “And indeed there is a lack of consistence between the scorn that our younger critics shower upon Hawthorne’s moral creations and their respect for his style. They admit a dignity in the expression that they will not allow to the thing expressed” (62). Canby continues:
Hawthorne’style has a mellow beauty; it is sometimes dull, sometimes prim, but it is never for an instant cheap, never, like our later American styles, deficient in tone and unity. It is a style with a patina that may or may not accord with current tastes, yet, as with Browne, Addison, Lamb, Thoreau, is undoubtedly a style. Such styles spring only from rich ground, long cultivated, and such a soil was Hawthorne’s. . . . Holding back from the new life of America into which Whitman was to plunge with such exuberance, he kept his style, like himself, unsullied by the prosaic world of industrial revolution, and chose, for his reality, the workings of the moral will. You can scarcely praise his style and condemn his subjects. Even romantic themes that would have been absurd in lesser hands get dignity from his purpose. . . . As Shakespeare, the Renaissance man, gave feudalism its final lift into the imagination, so Hawthorne, the skeptic with a moral obsession, raised New England Puritanism – not the theory, but the practice and still more the results in mind and spirit – into art. This lies behind his style (63).
The dignity and mellowness of Hawthorne’s style mentioned by Canby without the author’s uncanny ability for choosing the most precise and suitable words for the expression of his ideas in “Young Goodman Brown.” His precision in the use of language is highlighted by other critics.
Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty and E. Hudson Long in “The Social Criticism of a Public Man” state: “Beyond his remarkable sense of the past, which gives a genuine ring to the historical reconstructions, beyond his precise and simple style, which is in the great tradition of familiar narrative. . . .” (49). The “precise” style mentioned by Bradley may be the “detailed” style stated by Clarice Swisher in “Nathaniel Hawthorne: a Biography”; she says: “In his journal – a kind of artist’s sketchbook – he...