The Importance Of Epiphany In Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown

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Although James Joyce was the first to use the religious term “epiphany” in a literary sense, it has become a main theme in many other short works. Gustave
Flaubert’s protagonist Félicité from “A Simple Heart” along with Goodman Brown from
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” both experience what could be called an epiphany. Flaubert and Hawthorne’s protagonists have a religious epiphany while in a possible dream state. The stories finish with phantasmal epiphanies where the authors refuse a conclusion. Flaubert and Hawthorne play with ambiguity allowing the readers and their protagonists to question paradoxes of faith together.
An epiphany is commonly known as a sudden realization. However, according to
Matthew 2:112,
an
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Nathaniel Hawthorne provides another outlook on the ambiguity of epiphanies and adds his own comment on religiosity through his work “Young Goodman Brown.”
While Flaubert’s Félicité remains inherently good, Goodman Brown puts on the façade that he too is respectable. However, he loses his innocence because of his inherent corruptibility. This suggests that the loss of his innocence was inevitable despite the validity of his epiphany. Brown makes the choice to go into the forest and meet with the devil despite his wife’s wishes. This choice is the true danger as the devil only facilitates
Brown’s fall into evil.
Similar to “A Simple Heart” the events that take place are ambiguous as Brown is never certain whether the evil events of the night are real. Brown’s decision to enter the forest is motivated by curiosity. When Brown accepts the devils staff it is clear that the traveler is more demon than human and that Brown is entering on a journey towards evil.
As Brown continues along the path a figure appears on a rock and tells the congregation to present the converts. Hidden amongst the congregation are Brown’s father and mother, along with other recognizable and trusted townspeople such as Deacon Gookin,
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This device of ambiguity creates the essence of Hawthorne’s short story. Both Flaubert and Hawthorne use the epiphany and the device of ambiguity to confuse and submerge readers into their work. Flaubert shows Christ can be found in anything as long as one recognizes it. Similarly, Hawthorne illustrates that Christ too can be found but so can the evils. Along with recognition comes experience. Félicité’s ontological experience of her parrot Loulou constitutes an essential realization of the parrots being. Through their epiphanies, Félicité does not just recognize the parrots being, she experiences it through all of her senses. Similarly with Goodman Brown, he not only recognizes the Devil’s being, he experiences the corruption. Through recognition and experience both authors are able to demonstrate that the dream state is irrelevant to the epiphany. As long as the protagonist experiences recognition and moves to experience the meaning of the epiphany is not lost and the paradoxes of faith remain

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