Young Goodman Brown and the Lottery Essay
Timothy Hurd ENGL 102-D18 April 8, 2013 Young Goodman Brown, The Lottery and the Evil of Mankind It is said that beauty is only skin deep. On the surface, mankind in general appears to evoke a beautiful sense of nobility, a concern for doing what is right and treating your fellow man with respect and honor. This is the aspiration and the stated goal of humanity, however like a disease that starts in the roots of an ancient, noble tree, humanity is cursed with a sickness. The giant tree can look so strong on the surface and yet lurking underneath is something that is diseased and rotten and could fall at any time.
What is the nature of mankind? Nathaniel Hawthorne in Young Goodman Brown and Shirley Jackson in The Lottery vividly describe the answer. Though they use slightly different methods and imagery, they both conclude that while on the surface humanity appears proper and beautiful, underneath the skin is the cancer of the reality that we all can be evil. Permeating both stories is the theme that as humans, we will pursue evil, and we are not necessarily who we say we are. We also aren’t what we believe ourselves to be; as Goodman Brown points out that “we have been a race of honest men and good Christians, since the days of the martyrs” (264).
The devil quickly points out the Goodman Browns father and grandfather both associated with the devil, unbeknown to young Goodman Brown. Evil can also take place because of tradition, or because it is tolerated as a societal norm. Such is the case of The Lottery. This story lulls the reader in little by little until finally at the end we are stricken with the realization of the theme and shocked by the depravity of humanity; the ability of mankind to both pursue and tolerate evil both individually and in society.
Hawthorne shows us that we’re all evil whether we show it on the outside or not and Jackson demonstrates what atrocities can be committed and accepted by society at large. Both stories deliver this theme of evil and depravity by vivid language and imagery; Hawthorne especially uses very powerful images to help describe Goodman Brown’s journey that fittingly, takes place at night in a haunted forest near a town famous for witchcraft. The road through the forest is described as, “a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which arely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind” (263). Jackson also uses imagery to lull us into the world of this small town, with descriptive images of summer and normal everyday life, “the morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green” (213), an idyllic scene reminding us that this town could be anywhere; effectively communicating that anyone anywhere is capable of evil and everyone everywhere is accepting of societal evils because of tradition; “we’ve just always done it this way. Old Man Warner speaks of this in The Lottery when he makes his speech about other towns giving up the lottery; it’s better to commit evil and stay traditional than stand for good by breaking tradition (216). Symbolism is also very effectively applied in both stories. In The Lottery we have names like Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves, suggesting death in the summer. Mr. Summers also owns the coal company, an industry not noted for its safety.
Further, the box in which the names are drawn out of is said to reside in “one place, sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves barn and another year underfoot in the post office, and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin grocery and left there” (214) symbolizing the uncertainty of death; it can find us anywhere. Both authors are also effective in their use of foreshadowing. Particularly Jackson with the mention of the stones early on in the story, at first it appears that they’re just collected by the kids because they’re kids.
However, after several more examples of the stones, we realize how important they are to the plot. Hawthorne also uses symbolism well, with the character Faith, who represents wholesome faithful innocence, with the pink ribbon in her hair and the description of her skipping down the street to meet Goodman Brown. He further shows that the old man really is the devil by his snake-like walking staff that several times almost comes to life.
Characters in both stories are cleverly placed to demonstrate certain qualities of mankind, and how they can be twisted to evil. Both stories while different in their presentation, style, language and delivery nonetheless similarly illustrate with great effectiveness the depravity of the human condition. Like an old and gnarled tree that has stood for generations, and looks as if it could withstand a tornado and yet is completely rotted on the inside, mankind also appears beautiful and noble with the best intentions.
However, as both Hawthorne and Jackson demonstrated, for all our talk of faith and family, we too can be evil; and forcefully remind us that beauty is only skin deep. Works Cited Hawthorne, Nathaniel. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 6th Compact ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 263-271. Print Jackson, Shirley. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 6th Compact ed. New York: Longman, 2010. 213-218. Print