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Young Goodman Brown Thesis Essay

ENGLISH 101–PAPER 1 ASSIGNMENT

SHORT LITERARY EXPLICATION

Length: approximately five typed pages

The word "explication" comes from a Latin word that means "unfolding." When you explicate a story or novel or poem, you "unfold" its meaning in an essay by interpreting or analyzing a portion of it. You can analyze a character, a single incident, symbols, point of view, structure, and so on. No explication can take into account everything that goes on in a story; the explication would be longer than the story itself. So your paper should focus on one or two elements that you think contribute to the overall meaning or purpose of the story. A good explication concentrates on details: you should quote portions of the story to show how the text supports your thesis. Then you should offer comments that show how the portion you're interpreting contributes to the story as a whole.

Suggested Approach:

(1) Choose one of the stories we have already read this semester from your textbook.

(2) Read the story several times, until you think you have an idea of its overall theme or thesis or meaning. Jot down notes as you read.

(3) Choose an element of the story (incident, character, style, symbol, structure) that seems to you to enhance or define the meaning as you understand it.

(4) Construct a THESIS that indicates (a) your focus, and (b) the relation of that focus to the story as a whole. A thesis represents your conclusion or opinion about the story. Thus your thesis is argumentative; it should not be an obvious point, but should be a thoughtful statement that indicates some of the complexity and depth of the story and that takes a point of view on the story–a statement that needs support to work as an argument. Don't settle for the first generalization that comes to your mind; that approach almost always leads to trite responses and poor grades. I'm always on the lookout for the "So what?" factor in paper topics. Ask yourself: "Could my thesis or opinion cause a reader to respond, 'Yes, that's true, but so what?' Or will my thesis illuminate for the reader some point that he/she might not have noticed at first reading?" Some examples:

(6) CONCLUSION: Your paper should conclude by summing up your argument so that

(a) the reader sees that the evidence you've given does in fact support your thesis, and

(b) you offer some indication of how your focus/thesis fits into the whole of the story.

SCHEDULE: You should begin your prewriting immediately--thinking about the stories we've read, brainstorming and making lists, beginning a tentative outline, etc. You must turn in a full draft of your paper on Friday, February 11 and participate in a rough draft workshop on Monday, February 21.

Other Important Advice

"Young Goodman Brown" is a key example of Hawthorne's examination of the conflicts between good and evil that -- he believes -- are always at work in the human psyche.  There are several ways that you could state the theme/thesis of this story --

a) Wickedness exists in every human;

b) Even the people who appear to be models of goodness and propriety have secrets to hide;

c) Nobody is exactly as they appear.

The name of...

"Young Goodman Brown" is a key example of Hawthorne's examination of the conflicts between good and evil that -- he believes -- are always at work in the human psyche.  There are several ways that you could state the theme/thesis of this story --

a) Wickedness exists in every human;

b) Even the people who appear to be models of goodness and propriety have secrets to hide;

c) Nobody is exactly as they appear.

The name of the main character, "Young GOODMAN Brown," is a tip-off to the fact that this story is going to be about morality.  "Goodman" is not so much the character's name as it is a common form of address in colonial times.  Nevertheless, it raises the question whether the young man is truly as "good" as he may seem. 

More in question is his wife, who is first introduced as "Faith, as the wife was aptly named."  Right from the start, Hawthorne sets up his two protagonists as model citizens, in what was a very religious community. 

On that night, Goodman Brown leaves his wife to go walking in the woods, meets a mysterious stranger (suggested to be the Devil), and ultimately sees a group of otherwise upstanding women from the town engaged in wild dancing that appears to be driven by witchcraft and devil worship.  Goodman Brown is horrified to see his wife Faith as part of the group. 

In the concluding paragraphs, we see that this incident, which may or may not have just been a dream, has the effect of shaking all of Goodman Brown's beliefs about the people around him.  Just as his beliefs are shaken, Hawthorne intends to raise questions for the reader as well.  Can we trust the trustworthy?  Can we believe what we think we believe?  Are good people as good as they seem, or do they have hidden evils?  Which is the reality, and which is the dream?

For an excellent overview, see the enotes.com reference on Young Goodman Brown at the source noted below.