David Leeb wrote a very compelling, unpublished paper titled “Shades of Goodman Brown”. In this paper, Leeb discussed a common “yarn” that presented itself in Young Goodman Brown, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyberg, Monster, and The Devil and Daniel Webster. He writes that “It is truly curious that four stories, which at first glance seem more remarkable for their dissimilarity than anything else. -should have much more in common than mere appeal. They have, in truth, a theme of origin, and with repetition the theme has become almost a tradition.” In each of these stories, some strange being gets into some smug region and causes a catalytic upheaval to bring about a revelation of human frailties. This theme writes Leeb “is now a kind of literary legend, over a century old, and still going strong.”.
After reading and rereading these great American classics, one question surfaced and resurfaced in my mind. Why were these groups of individuals so commonly frail that “some smug being” could cause such a catalytic upheaval? What commonality are these writers describing about our western civilization that is so typically unbalanced. I believe that we as a society are unable to face the truth when the truth exposes something negative. We are taught to hide negativity at all costs. We can’t talk to others about it, we can’t expose it, we can’t even think about it. One of the best examples of Leeb’s thesis statement is the fable about “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. In this fable, the strange being is the child that tells the smug community that the emperor has no clothes on. Of course everyone is aware of the fact, but the child is the catalyst that causes the reaction of exposed awareness. The child is simply exposing the obvious truth. What I would like to explore is what would have happened in these and other stories if people were able to deal with reality whether it was good or bad.
Of all the works, Goodman Brown is probably the best example of personal upheaval caused by his inability to expose the dark truth.