AND “WHERE ARE YOU GOING? WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”
By Nana Podungge
This paper will compare Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” and Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where are you going? Where have you been?” Hawthorne’s story belongs to the Romantic Period while Oates’ belongs to the Postmodern Period. First, I will analyze the story one by one. After that, I will elaborate the similarities and the differences I found in the two stories.
In “Young Goodman Brown”, the main character—Brown—left his wife whom he married just for three months, to do an “errand” to the forest. There, he met a so-called fifty-year-old man who took him to a certain place in the forest where there would be an ‘ordination’ and Brown would be ordained to be one of the members of the man’s congregation. Brown—the descendant of “a race of honest men and good Christians” (Baym, 1989: 1112)—in fact felt insecure to follow that old man, because he thought that the congregation in the forest were the followers of the devil. He regarded the old man whom he first met in the forest as the devil. Nevertheless, he did not go back to his village. Instead, he continued following the old man. His curiosity about what he would find in the forest is bigger than his feeling insecure to follow the devil.
Besides feeling insecure, Brown also felt sinful because following the devil in a dangerous place. it is understandable because he considered forests a place where devils and satans meet each other. Therefore, Brown was shocked when he found Goody Cloyse, a very pious woman in his village who taught him his catechism. Feeling worried that Goody Cloyse would see him following the devil in the forest (he was worried that the pious woman would consider him as a devil follower, and not a pious man any longer), Brown tried to hide. He felt more shocked when he also found other pious people from his village in the same forest where he was; such as the minister and Deacon Gookin. Those people were going into the same direction with him. Brown’s feelings—insecure, guilty, sinful, and also curious—were mixed together, and he asked himself what those pious people were doing in the place full of devils.
Going farther into the forest, Brown met more people—one of them was Faith, his wife whom he left at home and who objected to his going to the forest. Not only pious and honorable people did Brown see there, he also saw “men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches, given over to all mean and filthy vice, suspected even of horrid crimes” (Baym, 1989: 1117). Those good and bad people were in the same place to attend the ordination. The congregation would ordain Brown and Faith to be the members. However, before they were ordained—Brown tried not to follow the order of the leader of the ordination ceremony, and tried to oppose it, suddenly everything was gone. “Hardly had he spoken, when he found himself amid calm night and solitude” (Baym, 1989: 1119).
Even though the story was written in the Romantic period, Hawthorne chose the setting in the Puritan era. He wanted to criticize Puritan people’s way of thinking that in this world there are only two kinds of people, good people who are perfectly pious, and bad people who are perfectly sinners. People must fall into one of the two categories. Through the main character, Brown, Hawthorne showed the confusion inside a young man about the two categories of people. How could pious people socialize with bad ones and they gathered in one place which was considered devilish—the forest. In the Puritan era, people considered the forest a dangerous place because it was full of devils and satans.
I conclude that Hawthorne wanted to convey a message that the Puritan philosophy about the two categories of people is wrong. No one is perfectly pious, nor is a perfect sinner. People have both good and bad sides in them. It is just natural for someone who is considered pious to do something bad. A wicked criminal can also have good side in him/her. Therefore, Hawthorne ended the story by describing Brown—an example of a puritan man who thought that someone must be either perfectly pious or perfect sinner—underwent unhappy life and lived restlessly until the end of his life because he could not understand what he found in one episode of his life.
In “Where are you going? Where have you been?” which was written in 1966, Oates tells a story of a fifteen-year-old girl named Connie. Though Connie did not really seem to feel happy at home—she always had problems with her mother who always compared her with her older sister, June, Connie seemed to enjoy her life outside home. Her parents let her go with her girl friends to a shopping plaza which was located three miles away from her house. There, Connie and her friends walked through the stores and went to a movie. Some other time, they went to a drive-in restaurant. Some other time again, Connie was riding in a car with a boy.
So did Connie’s life go on. At home, she had to confront her mother whom she thought had a jealous feeling toward her because of her good look—her mother used to be good-looking too but now it has gone. Besides, being always compared with her elder sister, Connie might suffer from “second child syndrome”. June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cooked and Connie couldn’t do a thing (p. 226). Outside home, Connie enjoyed her life with her friends.
Connie’s life changed when one Sunday, she was left alone at home—her parents and sister went to a barbeque at an aunt’s house. Two boys—strangers—went to her house and asked her to go for a ride with them. For Connie, they were strangers. For the two boys—especially one of them named Arnold Friend—Connie was not a stranger. Actually Connie has met Arnold one night in town when she was in Eddie’s car. “… and just at that moment she happened to glance at a face just a few feet from hers. It was a boy with shaggy black hair, in a convertible jalopy painted gold. He stared at her and then his lips widened into a grin.” (p. 228) However, Connie did not remember that. While Arnold always remembered that event, and tried to find out about anything related to Connie since then. No wonder, Arnold came at the “right time” when Connie was left alone at home.
Arnold at first persuaded Connie somewhat politely. He assured her that he was a friend who just wanted to take her for a ride. I believe that Arnold regarded Connie as a girl who liked going for a ride in a boy’s car when he saw her in Eddie’s, a kind of “cheap” girl who easily got flattered by a boy’s smooth talk. However, Arnold was wrong. In fact, Connie was “a hard girl to handle”. She even asked him and Ellie—Arnold’s friend to go away. It made Arnold angry.
Arnold kept forcing Connie to go with him. He showed Connie his “supra natural” ability to see something which happens in another place. “Right now they’re—uh—they’re drinking. Sitting around,” he said vaguely, squinting as if he were staring all the way to town and over to Aunt Tillie’s backyard. Then the vision seemed to get clear and he nodded energetically. “Yeah. Sitting around. There’s your sister in a blue dress, huh? And high heels, the poor sad bitch—nothing like you, sweetheart! And your mother’s helping some fat woman with the corn, they’re cleaning the corn—husking the corn—“ (p. 234) After that, he started to harass her sexually. “I’ll tell you how it is, I’m always nice at first, the first time. I’ll hold you so tight you won’t think you have to try to get away or pretend anything because you’ll know you can’t. And I’ll come inside you where it’s all secret and you’ll give in to me and you’ll love me—“ (p. 234)
With his “supra natural” ability and sexual harassment, Arnold even made Connie more scared of him. Moreover, feeling frustrated because his “victim” did not give in easily, then he threatened to burn Connie’s house. “If the place got lit up with fire honey, you’d come runnin’ out into my arms, right into my arms…” (p. 235). After that, he threatened to kill Connie’s family; “You don’t want your people in any trouble, do you?” (p. 237)
Feeling very scared, Connie tried to call the police. I think something wrong with the telephone made Connie sort of subconscious. “… she ran into the back room and picked up the telephone. Something roared in her ear, a tiny roaring, and she was so sick with fear that she could nothing but listen to it—“ (p. 237) To some extent, Connie was “split” into two. Her conscience told her not to follow Arnold, but her “sound” mind feeling scared forced her to follow him. Her spirit was expelled out of her body. This body without soul then followed Arnold. “She watched herself push the door slowly open as if she were safe back somewhere in the other doorway. Watching this body and this head of long hair moving out into the sunlight where Arnold Friend waited.” (p. 239)
When I come to the end of the two stories—“Young Goodman Brown” and “Where are you going? Where have you been?”—they have the same unhappy ending. In the first, when the main character died, “his tombstone was not carved with hopeful verse, for his dying was gloom.” While in the latter, Connie’s spirit saw her body following her seducer. Besides, I conclude that the two stories are mysterious. In “Young Goodman Brown”, Brown went to the forest and then saw many people there but suddenly they disappeared. Some critics said that it was just the “dream vision” of Brown. In “Where are you going? Where have you been?” Connie underwent separation of her soul and body. In addition, the two main characters underwent the initiation into evil.
Now I want to elaborate the differences between the two stories. The most striking contrast is that Hawthorne’s story is religious—portraying the Puritan era where people mostly viewed life from religious point of view; while Oates’ story is secular—“none of them bothered with church” (p. 229). Hawthorne mentioned terms related to religion; such as ordination, catechism, minister, etc. Oates describes mundane things; such as going to a shopping plaza, listening to music from the radio, watching movies, etc. This is related to the background of the writers. Hawthorne was born as one descendant of Puritan immigrants, but he himself did not like the teachings of Puritanism which he considered hypocrite. Therefore, he criticized that in “Young Goodman Brown”. Oates was born in 1938. The twentieth century, so that she portrayed the life of adolescent girls that she saw in the early 1960s in her story. Besides, the decade of 1960s marked as music worship by youngsters, a kind of worship somewhat like a spiritual one.
Related to the background of the writers, therefore, the stories used very different language. In the Romantic period, the literary work was produced only for people from middle-high social status who were educated and had money to buy it, so that the use of language in “Young Goodman Brown” was especially for the educated middle-high society. It is difficult to understand because it is full of symbols, metaphors. Starting the end of the nineteenth century with the emergence f many people who had a lot of money who would buy literary works such as novels, but they were in fact not from high society—not really educated either—writers started to write pop fiction only to earn money. Since the target market was less educated people, the use of language was simplified.
Another difference is the main character in “Young Goodman Brown” a man; while Connie, a girl, is the main character of “Where are you going? Where have you been?” It is again closely related to the writers. Hawthorne—as a man—would know conflicts faced by men better than conflicts faced by women. Oates—as a woman—would understand better how a girl feels toward her mother, girl friends, and also how o feel against a seducer and face a threat of rape.
The setting of “Young Goodman Brown” is night and in the forest—something mysterious; while in “Where are you going? Where have you been?” the setting is various, sometimes evening in a shopping plaza where Connie hung around with her friends, and Arnold seduced Connie in the afternoon at her house. To undergo his ‘journey’, Brown left his wife at home and went out of the home to go to the forest; while Connie experience scary event when she was left alone at home.
To sum up, the two stories which were written in two different eras have two similarities in the unhappy ending and they are mysterious stories. They have some differences; in the theme—religious versus secular; the use of language; the main character of the stories—man versus girl; and the setting—night versus afternoon-evening; forest versus shopping plaza and home.
A final project for America’s Cultural Eras Class in 2003