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Comprehension Questions





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1. How did America’s Puritan heritage influence Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”? Describe Rappaccini’s scientific experiment with his daughter. In what sense is the Pequod a microcosm of American society?

"Young Goodman Brown" (1835) is a short story by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. The story takes place in 17th century Puritan New England, a common setting for Hawthorne's works, and addresses the Calvinist/Puritan belief that humanity exists in a state of depravity, exempting those who are born in a state of grace. Hawthorne frequently attempts to expose the hypocrisy of Puritan culture in his literature. In a symbolic fashion, the story follows Young Goodman Brown's journey into self-scrutiny which results in his loss of faith.

In his writings Hawthorne questioned established thought—most specifically New England Puritanism and contemporary Transcendentalism. In "Young Goodman Brown", as with much of his other writing, he exposes ambiguity.[3] The plot and textual references in "Young Goodman Brown" reveal the Puritans as being like "a city upon a hill" as John Winthrop, a founder of Puritanism, said, and wanting to be seen that way as good, holy men. However, their doctrine teaches that all men are inherently evil and they strive to cause each person to come to terms with this and realize their sinful nature. Hawthorne presents this paradox of the teachings of the Puritans as hypocritical. They taught that man was inherently evil in nature much in accordance to Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

Puritan doctrine taught that all men are totally depraved and require constant self-examination to see that they are sinners and unworthy of God's Grace. Because man had broken the Covenant of Works when Adam had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, God offered a new covenant to Abraham's people which held that election to Heaven was merely a possibility. In the Puritan religion, believers dutifully recognized the negative aspects of their humanity rather than the gifts they possessed. This shadow of distrust would have a direct influence on early American New England and on many of its historians and writers, one of which was Nathaniel Hawthorne.

2. How is gothic literature different from other kinds of writing that are contemporaneous with it? What were some nineteenthcentury social conditions that contributed to the critical outlook of gothic literature? Why is the dash important in Dickinson’s poems?

Gothic fiction, sometimes referred to as Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance.

While in the preceding Romantic period poetry had been the dominant genre, it was the novel that was most important in the Victorian period. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) dominated the first part of Victoria's reign: his first novel, Pickwick Papers, was published in 1836, and his last Our Mutual Friend between 1864-5.

Centuries passed before the word "gothic" meant anything else again. During the Renaissance, Europeans rediscovered Greco-Roman culture and began to regard a particular type of architecture, mainly those built during the Middle Ages, as "gothic" -- not because of any connection to the Goths, but because the 'Uomo Universale' considered these buildings barbaric and definitely not in that Classical style they so admired. Centuries more passed before "gothic" came to describe a certain type of novels, so named because all these novels seem to take place in Gothic-styled architecture -- mainly castles, mansions, and, of course, abbeys ("Gothic...").

Charles Dickens is the most famous Victorian novelist. Extraordinarily popular in his day with his characters taking on a life of their own beyond the page, Dickens is still one of the most popular and read authors of that time. His first novel, The Pickwick Papers (1836), written when he was twenty-five, was an overnight success, and all his subsequent works sold extremely well. The comedy of his first novel has a satirical edge and this pervades his writing. Dickens worked diligently and prolifically to produce the entertaining writing that the public wanted, but also to offer commentary on social problems and the plight of the poor and oppressed. His most important works include Oliver Twist (1837-8), Dombey and Son (1846-8), Bleak House (1852-3), Great Expectations (1860–61), Little Dorrit (1855-7), and Our Mutual Friend (1864-5). There is a gradual trend in his fiction towards darker themes which mirrors a tendency in much of the writing of the 19th century.

3. What happens to Young Goodman Brown in the forest? Describe Ahab’s quest: what is he looking for, and why? What themes or topics does Dickinson tend to write about?

The story begins at sunset in 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, with young Goodman Brown leaving his home and Faith, his wife of three months, to meet with a mysterious figure deep in the forest. He soon meets an older stranger, whose appearance, conduct, and attitudes resemble those of the devil.As he and this mysterious figure meet and proceed further into the dark forest, it is broadly hinted that Goodman Brown's traveling companion is, in fact, the Devil, and that the purpose of their journey is to join in an unspecified but obviously unholy ritual. Goodman Brown is wavering and expresses reluctance, yet they continue on. As their journey continues Brown discovers others also proceeding to the meeting, many of them his townsfolk whom he had considered exemplary Christians, including his minister and deacon and the woman who taught him his catechism. He is astonished and disheartened and determines, once again, to turn back. But then he hears his wife's voice and realizes that she is one of the ones who is to be initiated at the meeting. Recognizing that he has lost his Faith (in both senses), he now resolves to carry out his original intention and enthusiastically joins the procession.

At the ceremony, and carried out at a flame-lit, crude rocky altar in a clearing deep in the forest, the new converts are called to come forth. He and Faith approach the altar and, as they are about to be anointed in blood to seal their alliance with wickedness, he cries out to Faith to look to heaven and resist. In the next instant he finds himself standing alone in the forest, next to the cold, wet rock.

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