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Learning Activities Related to "Young Goodman Brown"

Learning Activities Related to "Young Goodman Brown" and Early New England Gravestones

The Black Man of the Forest with His Familiar
The Black Man of the Forest with His Familiar (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)
1.) Interpreting Allegory and Symbolism

Many of Hawthorne's stories can be read as allegories. An allegory is a story or work of art that represents another meaning. It is different than a work that draws upon symbolism to suggest other meanings. In an allegory, concrete elements, such as characters, objects, actions, and settings, stand for abstractions (such as greed, virtue, love, hope). As seen in a parable, the elements in a literary or artistic allegory work together to communicate an idea or moral. You may be familiar with Jesus of Nazareth's parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) or the seventeenth-century English classic The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. (In Bunyan's allegory, the main character, Christian, along with his companion Hopeful, is imprisoned in the castle of Giant Despair. It is a key named Promise, however, that unlocks the prison door, freeing the two and allowing them to travel together on the narrow way and beyond to the Celestial City.)

The English settlers of seventeenth and eighteenth-century New England were quite familiar with these allegories and often saw their own lives in stark allegorical terms. They lived in a world of symbols. Gravestone carvers, for example, drew upon the many symbolic images surrounding death and funerals and even the verbal metaphors of ministers of the time. They incorporated these in their own style into the gravestones they produced and created one of New England's first folk art forms.

Skulls, crossed bones, winged hourglasses, picks and shovels were just a few of the common symbols carved on gravestones in Puritan times. These carvings were a symbolic language understood by all the people. Some stonecutters, however, went beyond the use of individual symbols on their stones and carved vivid allegorical dramas. The images worked together as a kind of story in stone, communicating a moral lesson or spiritual truth to the observer. In this way, seventeenth and eighteenth century gravestones were more than memorials to the dead: they were sermons to the living.

The following learning activities will give you practice with understanding and interpreting symbolism and allegory. They will also introduce you to the art of the New England gravestone-a haunting expression of the New England mind, which was one of the chief subjects of Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing.


a.) View the following gravestones. In writing, describe the images you see (list the characters, objects, actions, and settings, as best you can, on each one). Notice the details, especially on the Susanna Jayne and Joseph Tapping stones. After you list each element, offer your interpretation of the symbolic and/or allegorical meaning of each. In a few sentences, explain the story carved on each stone.

Detail of the Right Border of the Isaac Spofford Gravestone, 1786, Beverly, MA
Detail of the Polly Harris Gravestone, 1787, Charlestown, MA

Detail of the Susanna Jayne Gravestone, 1776, Marblehead, MA
Detail of the Joseph Tapping Stone, 1678, Boston, MA

b.) Read Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" as an allegory. Try the same approach you used while interpreting the gravestones. List the main characters, objects, settings, and actions and then beside each element, give your interpretation. (Be aware of the fact, however, that Hawthorne is often times deliberately ambiguous and relies more on symbolism than a strict one-to-one allegorical meaning.)

c.) Explain how the following gravestone images and the story "Young Goodman Brown" reveal an aspect of the Puritan imagination.

Timothy Lindall Stone, 1698/99, Charter St. Burying Ground, Salem, MA
Detail of the Left Border of the Lindall Stone
Detail of the Right Border of the Lindall Stone

Phinehas Pratt Gravestone, 1680, Charlestown, MA.

Detail of the Zechariah Long Gravestone, 1688, Charlestown, MA

Joseph Tapping Gravestone, 1678, Boston, MA

2.) Reading and Writing Epitaphs:

Along with symbolic images, gravestone makers carved inscriptions on early New England gravestones. Often quaint and curious (if not outright strange), these epitaphs usually give essential biographical information: name, age, death date, names of parents and, for women, name of husband. Many epitaphs even include a vivid description of the cause of death or a eulogistic sentiment praising the virtues or accomplishments of the deceased. Most stones offer a few lines of hopeful-or not-so-hopeful-verse to the passerby. A common sentiment is "Death is a Debt to Nature due, / Which I have paid and so must You." Latin phrases, such as "Tempus Fugit" (Time Flies) and "Memento Mori" (Remember Death) are other common expressions inscribed on early New England gravestones.

Like the symbolic and allegorical carvings, gravestone epitaphs provide glimpses into the lives, beliefs, and imaginations of the first English settlers. They have many truths to tell. Puritan minister and writer, Cotton Mather, made this well-known comment on Boston's colonial gravestones: "And know, reader, that though the stones in this wilderness are already grown so witty as to speak, they never yet that I could hear of, grew so wicked as to lye."


a.) Read over the following questions and with these in mind view the gravestones and read the epitaphs below. When you are done, answer the questions fully.

1. What do you notice about the use of language and punctuation on early New England gravestones?

2. What social and/or religious values and beliefs are stated or implied in the epitaphs?

3. What insights do you gain into daily life in early New England?

b.) At the end of "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne writes: "And when he had lived long, and was borne to his grave, a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman, and children and grand-children, a goodly procession, besides neighbors, not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his tombstone; for his dying hour was gloom."

Using any of the above as models, write an epitaph for Goodman Brown. Be sure it is faithful to the story and reflects your understanding of Brown's conflict and Hawthorne's theme. Begin with these words: "Here lyes ye body of Young Goodman Brown, . . . ."

c.) Using the same approach as above, write an epitaph for Young Goodman Brown's wife, Faith.

3. Excerpt from The American Note-Books. Nathaniel Hawthorne visits the Charter Street Burial Ground, Salem, in 1838 and describes some of the graves.

Other website pages that may assist you with these activities are:

Saving Graves--"How To Interpret Gravestone Motifs"

"Cemetery Art and Symbolism" by Pam Reid

"Symbolism on Gravestones" by Jessie Lie Farber (Association for Gravestone Studies)

"The Epitaph Browser" Collected and annotated by Joel GAzis-SAx

Saving Graves

Association for Gravestone Studies

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