Like all of Hawthorne's fiction, this masterpiece seems simple the first ten times you read it. But there is truly great psychological insight waiting in the middle of the story, in the middle of the woods. As Brown approaches the hellish circle of fiends gathered in the middle of the woods, and after the Devil points out that those gathered around the fire have all already joined in communion with him -- and after he recognizes the people gathered there as "all [those] whom [he had] reverenced from youth" -- after all that, the Devil works his magic. Here's how Hawthorne tells it:
And there [Goodman Brown and Faith] stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet hesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world. A basin was hollowed, naturally, in the rock. Did it contain water, reddened by the lurid light? or was it blood? or, perchance, a liquid flame? Herein did the shape of evil [i.e., the Devil] dip his hand and prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they could now be of their own. (italics added)Lately, I've been observing a lot of moral outrage and very little admission of personal guilt. I see it in my sophomores, who write with unselfconscious ease about how "appalled" they are by the way the Puritans treated the Native Americans. Or about how "disgusted" they are by the way the slavemasters treated the slaves. Or about how the holocaust was "astonishingly evil."
Obviously, it is appalling & disgusting whenever injustice arises -- but there is a very real danger, I think, in looking-without-involvement, in confidently wagging your finger at others where inward reflection ought to be evident. When a person looks, at history and the world, "more conscious of the secret guilt of others... than they [are] of their own," I believe they begin to pave a new way for evil. I've written (complained) about this problem before (Monica, you promised a follow-up in the comments there; I'll accept it here!) as it relates to academia.
Back to the much anticipated Parmenides sequence tomorrow.