Comparison between Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”
Two stories that have several similarities and differences with one another are Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown.” Both stories generally tell the tale of a male protagonist who goes through several extraordinary experiences that significantly impact his life. In addition, the protagonists’ experiences in both stories also transform his beliefs, principles, and perceptions about the world and people around him.
One of the first notable similarities between the two stories is the experience that the protagonists go through in their respective journeys in an isolated place. In Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, the main character, Rip Van Winkle, decides to go nearby mountains to shoot down squirrels with his gun. In the mountains, Winkle encounters strange people wearing equally odd clothes- “a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist – several pair of breeches, the outer one of ample volume, decorated with rows of buttons down the sides, and bunches at the knees” (Irving, 1819, p. 6). Later in the story, it is revealed that they are rumored to be the Henry Hudson crew’s ghosts haunting the place. When Winkle drinks their liquor and falls asleep beneath a tree, he awakens twenty years later, much to his surprise.
On the other hand, in Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, the protagonist, Goodman Brown, sets off on a journey to meet a bizarre figure in the forest. When he meets this shadowy person, who is later revealed as an evil being or possibly the Devil himself, he reluctantly travels with him deeper into the forest where he discovers that an unholy ritual is taking place. He is then forced to take part in the ritual and is baffled to see that his wife, Faith, is also there. He is also surprised to see people, such as the deacon and the minister whom he believes to be highly religious and spiritual, taking part in the ritual. When both Brown and Faith are about to be anointed with blood which would signify their allegiance to evil, Brown urges his wife to resist and look to the heavens. Suddenly he finds himself alone in the forest as if nothing ever happened. In short, both Winkle and Brown went through supernatural experiences which ended in them apparently awakening from a bad dream. These two dreams both had dramatic effects on the lives of the two men both physically and mentally.
However, the main difference is the effects of these experiences on the two protagonists. In the case of Winkle, although he was initially met by fear when he returns to his hometown, he claims that he is finally liberated from the constant nagging of his wife, Dame. Eventually, Winkle returns to being lazy and carefree, which becomes the subject of envy by all the “hen-pecked husbands” (Irving, 1819, p. 14). On the other hand, Brown’s experience in the forest, suddenly transforms into a highly cynical man who is wary of everyone around him, including his wife Faith. He is unsure if the evil ritual he saw in the forest is real or not but is convinced that every person he saw there, including Faith, is suspicious and has evil and wicked intentions.
Another notable difference between the two stories is the protagonists’ relationships with their respective wives. In Rip Van Winkle, it is vividly illustrated how Winkle dislikes his wife, Dame, for nagging him about being too lazy to take care of his family. He basically prefers not see her in most days as he would have to endure her harsh words and criticisms. On the other hand, in Young Goodman Brown, it is shown that the Brown loves his wife more than anything else in the world. After he left Faith to travel to the forest, he says “Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven” (Hawthorne, 1835, p. 1). Moreover, when Faith was about to be anointed with blood that would seal her allegiance to the evil convention, Brown tried his best to convince his wife not to give in and hold on to her faith, which shows that he truly cared for his wife unlike Winkle.
Hawthorne, N. (1835). Young Goodman Brown.
Washington, I. (1819). Rip Van Winkle.