Conflict is the driving force on which mankind survives. Conflict is generally thought of as a disagreement between two people, and in fact it can be. However it is important to realize that there are many different types of disagreements and these inconsistencies aren't always brought to fruition by other people. The accepted literary forms of conflict are man against man, where one man is in direct disagreement with another man; man against self, where the inconsistencies lie within one person, there by inciting conflict; man against society, where societal norms are questioned by an individual; and man against deity, where a person is in direct conflict with a more powerful supernatural being. These conflicts laid out for the everyday amateur critic, one must now find a story and recognize a conflict to identify. Nathanial Hawthorne wrote Young Goodman Brown, with these desperate people in mind. In his tale which he parallels to Pilgrims Progress, the Christian classic by Paul Bunyan with an almost plageristic fanaticism, Nathanial Hawthorne manages to squeeze out nearly every form of conflict possible in just a few brief pages. His story begins with a Young Goodman Brown setting out into the woods for a walk. His wife Faith begs him to stay and he, like a good Puritan gently tells her he must go, and manages to accuse her of not trusting him. Hawthorne gently skirts the man against woman conflict, and with a spring to his step Young Goodman Brown is off and soon deep into the dark devilish woods. He happens upon a dark man, who is later named “the devil.”(Ref Story here) Young Goodman Brown's world slowly begins to dissolve in a sea of disillusionment with the people around him as he comes to grips with the humanity of those he had revered, the seeming futility of his faith, and his own weakness of character. All in all a fascinating tale with entirely too much conflict, but easy to pick out and discuss. As in most of Hawthorne's writings a good chunk of the actual story is allegorical. Hawthorne freely uses imagery to portray the struggle of a Puritan man trying to live an upright, godly life.
Man exists in society under certain understandings. Generally these understandings, ideas, are imposed upon an individual and they resist, and someone has a new top ten seller. In the case of Young Goodman Brown however, this is not so. Young Goodman Brown struggles to come to grips with fundamental ideas of his religion, and is forced to take a good look at his society, specifically at the people who make up this society. His meeting with the devil starts off with a nervous excuse on the part of Young Goodman Brown, “Faith kept me back a while.”(CITE) It is important to realize right off the bat that the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne is quite young in his writing career. He is excited with the ideas of allegory and has decided to throw every possible imagery switch into the mix. So while Young Goodman Brown in this quote is referring to his wife of three months, Faith; the author is most certainly preparing a dialog on the hapless man's inner workings of morality. Back in the woods, the devil is chiding the Goodman about his slow pace, “This is a dull pace for the beginning of a journey.” (CITE). Here you begin to see the reluctance of Goodman Brown about actually preforming this journey. The story is rife with images of coming age, the lost of innocence, the disillusionment commonly referred to as 'growing up.' The author recognizes reluctance to change on the part of the Goodman, but uses the devil as a necessary vehicle to that change, for what possible lie could one tell the devil? When Young Goodman Brown tries to hide behind his lineage, his moral and upright father and grandfather, the devil is more than happy to tell him what he knows. Young Goodman Brown's father burned villages to the ground, that his grandfather whipped a woman for nothing more than the fact that she didn't believe the same as him. As with all journey's of self, this one too must begin on a level playing field. Humility is not found looking down from a lofty seat. The Puritan doctrine is one of degradation and humiliation of self. In order to be pious one must have a true and deep seated understanding of one's shortcomings, of the evil that has been passed down from the sin of Adam and Eve. So the logical fallacy comes into play: if all men are evil, then one man is evil, and if one man is evil then these others which are held in positions of piety are obviously liars, because they too are evil. This is examined further in the chance meeting with Goody Cloyse on the road. Young Goodman Brown identifies her as “and exemplary dame, who taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual advisor, jointly with the minister Deacon Gookin.” (CITE) Yet this exemplary woman greets the devil as an old friend, asks for his assistance in the woods, and eventually takes the devil's twisted staff for support. The person who would teach a catechism in a theocratic society such as the Puritans would be the equivalent to a the community grandmother. Now taking this new slant on his faith, Young Goodman Brown applies it to this old woman walking through the same dark woods, holding familiar company with the epitome of evil, there is only one possible outcome. Goody Cloyse too must be as evil and depraved as Young Goodman Brown. The next encounter is that of an overheard conversation between the minister and a deacon. At this point the conversation between the two men is superfluous. The pillars of Young Goodman Brown's community are just as evil as he knows himself to be. These pillars are responsible for the growth of the young, for the guidance of the old, and they are corrupt, they must be corrupt, for men are evil. In a theocracy where the divinity of heaven is contrasted with the baseness of man, there will always be a conflict. Young Goodman Brown stands between himself and a society built on the ideals of corrupt men, instituted by the same corrupt men, and is therefore ultimately doomed to end up a hopelessly corrupt society.
The next form of conflict to be examined is that of man against self. This conflict ties in nicely with the previous societal conflict for it was the collective individual beliefs of the Puritans that developed their society as a whole. In a theocracy of such extremes such as held by the Puritans, a certain duality must be adopted to cope. The struggle of Young Goodman Brown in the second half of the story, brings to light the apparent dichotomy of man. The focus of the depravity of man leaves very little room for the individual. In order to cope, one must adopt either a violent and unreasonable self hatred, or a face for everyday church use. In the communion of the human race, as described by Hawthorne, this concept is addressed. Here before Young Goodman Brown are the pillars of society, revealed to all as just men or women all flawed and impure.