Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1835
The magic trick:
Using the pink ribbons as symbols of innocence
The attack on the Puritans is brilliant. The allegory, the cynicism – just terrific. However, my favorite magic trick, and maybe the aspect of Hawthorne’s work that most helped move forward American literature, is the use of symbolism. In “Young Goodman Brown,” we’re talking pink ribbons. They represent the essence of innocence, early in the story, the pretty strings attached to the cap of Goodman Brown’s new wife, Faith. They then factor in the story’s climax, as Goodman Brown finds them floating through the wind during his walk with the devil, thus signifying innocence lost. The story’s entire message can be read through the pink ribbons. And that’s quite a trick on Hawthorne’s part.
There was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down through the air and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink ribbon.
“My Faith is gone!” cried he, after one stupefied moment. “There is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is this world given.”