Bedford/St. Martin's virtuaLit Interactive Fiction Tutorial Notebook VIEW SEND
Fiction in Depth Approaches and Contexts
Select a StoryElements of FictionCultural ContextsCritical Approaches

Salem Witch Trials
Puritan New England

CULTURAL CONTEXT FOR "Young Goodman Brown"

Puritanism was introduced in New England in 1620, when William Bradford and a group of Puritans sailed from England to America aboard the Mayflower. Between 1620 and 1640, nearly 50,000 Puritans left England for America, where they soon formed several towns in the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies. The Plymouth Colony pilgrims established a separation between church and state, whereas in Massachusetts Bay Puritanism became the state–supported religion. Dissenters in Massachusetts Bay, such as Thomas Hooker, the author of one of the documents included in this collection, and Roger Williams, left the colony and founded other settlements, including Hartford, Connecticut, and Providence, Rhode Island. While the American Puritans were far from homogenous, they did share many central tenets, such as a belief in predestination (that those who will be saved have previously been chosen by God and that individuals can do little to change their fate) and the idea that man has no right to salvation.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” describes the temptation of Goodman Brown within the context of the hypocritical Puritanism of his family and community. Are there any genuinely pious Puritans in the story? Is Brown still pious by the end of the story? What is the nature of his temptation into sin, and what are we to conclude from the tale’s ambiguous resolution?

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