English, Hawthorne: Judging Others
Some consider judgement the greatest sin that man can commit; Judgement occurs when one man criticizes another, or nature. In Nathaniel Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown and The Birthmark, judgement becomes a reoccurring theme. In Young Goodman Brown, the protagonist, Goodman Brown embarks, on a demonic mission where he consorts with the devil, and judges his fellow men. With the devil's influence he concludes that all men are evil and from that point forward judges them as being evil. In The Birthmark, Aylmer sins by judging differently than Goodman Brown. Rather than judge man, Aylmer judges nature, more specifically, the flaws that exist within nature. Aylmer and Goodman Brown sin by judging and both thus face a punishment.
In Young Goodman Brown, Hawthorne focuses on the judgment of humanity through the use of protagonist Goodman Brown. Goodman Brown leaves his home one day, either in dream or reality, to consort with the devil. He travels until he arrives at a demonic funeral controlled by Satan. Upon arrival Goodman Brown is initiated into a commune based on the decree that all men are evil. Goodman Brown thereby becomes a character who judges humanity:
"My faith is gone!" cried he, after one stupefied moment. "There is no good on earth; and is but a name. Come, Devil; for to thee is this world given."
Hawthorne implies that Goodman Brown's greatest sin is judgement. He sins by becoming one of the Devil's followers, but in Hawthorne's eyes committs an even greater sin by judging others. That he has judged becomes apparent when Goodman Brown begins to invest in the Devil's decree:
"Lo, there ye stand, my children," said the figure, in a deep and solemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. "Depending upon one another's hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race."
In this passage Goodman Brown decides that all men are truly evil. Hawthorne later shows the price that Goodman Brown must pay for his condoning the devils judgement. Thus, the "Ã¢â‚¬Â¦evil omenÃ¢â‚¬Â¦drown[s]Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ the blessed strainÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" of the "...holy psalmÃ¢â‚¬Â¦". As a result of his sin, Goodman Brown can no longer bear to hear the holy psalms.
In The Birthmark protagonist Aylmer also passes judgements. Though rather than judge humanity, Aylmer judges nature and nature's imperfections. His beautiful wife Georgiana is perfect in every way, except for the tiny birthmark that lies on her cheek. Aylmer, a very intelligent scientist, finds the birthmark an "Ã¢â‚¬Â¦intolerableÃ¢â‚¬Â¦" mark of imperfection and confronts Georgina about this "Ã¢â‚¬Â¦earthly imperfectionÃ¢â‚¬Â¦":
"Ah, upon another face perhaps it might," replied her husband; "but never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from the hand of Nature, that his slightest possible defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection."
This quote shows that Aylmer has judged nature. He adds to his sins by trying to rid Georgiana's face of the imperfection which plagues her complexion. His punishment for his judging nature is the loss of his wife, for he gives her a concoction which rids her of not just her imperfection, but life as well. Thus for trying to tamper with nature he loses his perfect wife.
Both these stories carry with them tragic endings and show the reader Hawthorne's view on the judging of others and nature. Both judge others and as a result of their sin, receive a punishment. Both of these characters try to play god, as they criticize and meddle with God's creations. Aylmer is so plagued by the thought of imperfection in Georgiana's face that he overlooks his natural rights and tries to play a role that only nature can. In any event Hawthorne finds the sin of judging others the most horrible sin man can commit. Consorting with the Devil is in itself a horrible sin, but Hawthorne implies that it is not this sin which is the greatest sin that Goodman Brown has committed. He instead suggests that the judgement he made while consorting with the devil was his worst crime.