Young Goodman Brown
The Dark Romantics
In the nineteenth century, American writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, were influenced by the European Romantic movement but added their own nationalistic twist. The most famous European Romantics included William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Blake. The characteristics of the movement, which began in Germany at the beginning of the eighteenth century, included an interest in the power of the individual; an obsession with extreme experiences, including fear, love, and horror; an interest in nature and natural landscapes; and an emphasis on the importance of everyday events. Some writers in America who drew from the Romantic tradition were James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and the transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. American Romantics in the early nineteenth century tended to celebrate the American landscape and emphasize the idea of the sublime, which glorified their beautiful home country. They also created the concept of an American Romantic hero, who often lived alone in the wilderness, close to the land, such as Cooper’s Leatherstocking or Thoreau himself at Walden Pond.
“Young Goodman Brown” fits into a subgenre of American Romanticism: the gothic or dark romance. Novels and stories of this type feature vivid descriptions of morbid or gloomy events, coupled with emotional or psychological torment. The dark Romantics joined the Romantic movement’s emphasis on emotion and extremity with a gothic sensibility, hoping to create stories that would move readers to fear and question their surroundings. Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843), was probably the most famous of the writers to work in the American dark Romantic genre. Goodman Brown’s encounter with the devil and battle with the evil within himself are both classic elements of a dark Romance.