Thematic Development in "Young Goodman Brown"
and "The Most Dangerous Game"
While Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" both feature the same basic theme of good vs. evil, the additional themes that the author utilize in telling their stories serves to differentiate them in a significant way, so that Hawthorne's story suggests that evil can corrupt even a successful protagonist while Connell suggests that his protagonist is transformed into a more empathetic person after his encounter with evil.
Young Goodman Brown
Good vs. evil
The nature of reality
The Most Dangerous Game
Hunting- predator vs. prey
Man vs. nature- isolation
While the protagonists of both stories fight against something that can be seen as evil, it impacts them in different ways.
A. Sanger Rainsford becomes more empathetic to the animals he once hunted
B. Goodman Brown becomes embittered by his experience with evil
C. Brown flees the forest and becomes bitter and angry
D. Rainsford defeats General Zaroff
III. In "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne conveys the themes by:
A. Establishing the importance of community
B. Revealing the internal flaws of Brown's companions
IV. In "The Most Dangerous Game," Connell conveys the themes by:
A. Isolating Rainsford and Zaroff
1. Similarities between Rainsford and Zaroff
2. Development of empathy through fear
B. Showcasing Rainsford's skills
C. Having Rainsford play the dual role of predator and prey
V. The authors' purpose:
A. Hawthorne's purpose is to question what it means to be pious and reveal that all people have sin.
B. Connell's purpose is to demonstrate that, in many ways, we are all both predator and prey.
VI. The unique techniques the writers use to communicate their themes:
1. Use of the supernatural
2. Use of doubt
3. Constant battle
Thematic Development in "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Most Dangerous Game"
The conflict between good and evil is one that appears throughout literature and it plays a significant role in two seemingly divergent short stories: "Young Goodman Brown" and "The Most Dangerous Game." In both stories, the protagonists come up against evil antagonists, one in the form of a man who hunts human beings, and the other in the form of the Devil. Furthermore, in both stories the encounters with evil change the protagonists. However, while Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" both feature the same basic theme of good vs. evil, the additional themes that the author utilize in telling their stories serves to differentiate them in a significant way, so that Hawthorne's story suggests that evil can corrupt even a successful protagonist while Connell suggests that his protagonist is transformed into a more empathetic person after his encounter with evil.
While the conflict between good and evil may be the overriding theme in both stories, they each have a number of lesser themes that the authors use to help demonstrate the protagonists' struggles with evil. In "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne uses the idea of community and social interactions to frame the story. Not only is Brown aware of his role in the community, but also very cognizant of how his friends and neighbors impact the community. Hawthorne also uses the past and nostalgia as a theme, showing Goodman Brown remembering various community members in different capacities and reflecting on how he is the same or different from those who came before him. However, one of Hawthorne's most effective themes is the way he uses the nature of reality. Ultimately, the reader, like Goodman Brown, is left wondering whether or not Brown actually saw those things in the wood or whether they were in his imagination. Whether or not they were real, Brown allows those visions to shape and change how he views the people around him, which impacts how he views himself. In the battle between good and evil, the real evil that Brown confronts is the evil in his own soul, and he is unable to defeat it.
Given that Connell chooses not to allow the presence of evil to corrupt his protagonist, it should come as no surprise that he uses different themes to explore the conflict between good and evil in "The Most Dangerous Game." The overriding theme in the story is that of the hunter and the contrast between predator and prey. In fact, at the beginning of the story Rainsford tells Whitney, "The world is made up of two classes...
Luckily, you and I are hunters" (Connell, 1924). Connell also employs the idea of violence as a theme. Both Rainsford and General Zaroff are violent men, but their violence has a different context, leaving the reader to ponder whether violence should be equated with evil. Fear is another important theme in the story; Rainsford learns what is to feel the fear of death and pain that Whitney described at the beginning of the story and this fear motivates him, not only to escape Zaroff's plans to kill him, but also to kill Zaroff. To defeat Zaroff, Rainsford also has to battle with nature, first surviving the swim to the island and then using the island against Zaroff. In fact, the conflict between Zaroff and Rainsford is not an internal conflict; it is the battle of skill between two men and Rainsford emerges triumphant.
As the different themes make clear, while the protagonists of both stories fight against something that can be seen as evil, it impacts them in different ways. At the beginning of the stories, Goodman Brown seems like a much better and kinder man than Sanger Rainsford. Brown kisses his wife goodbye and seems to be a nice man with a nice life. In contrast, Rainsford is not only en route to a trophy hunting destination, but genuinely does not care if the animals he hunts experience fear or pain. Both men confront evil, but in different formats. Rainsford defeats Zaroff and gains empathy for the animals he once hunted during the experience. In contrast, while Brown seems to defeat the Devil's tempting offers by turning to God, he emerges from the experience embittered, angry, and suspicious after his confrontation with evil.
What is interesting is that the authors create very different atmospheres to frame the conflict between good and evil. In "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne conveys the themes by first establishing the importance of community and then revealing the internal flaws of Brown's companions. Though they are said to do horrible things, including infant sacrifice, at no point in the story does it ever appear that Brown is actually in any physical danger from the people he encounters in the forest. Instead, the danger is in his mind. In contrast, Rainsford spends almost all of his story in actual peril. He is in danger from the moment he falls off of the boat until the moment that he kills Zaroff, though he is unaware of the danger for a brief period after being rescued. Connell uses isolation to help highlight the conflict between Rainsford and Zaroff. Moreover, he focuses on the similarities between the two great hunters to make Rainsford recognize some of the less appealing parts of his own personality. Finally, Connell uses actual fear of imminent physical harm, pain, and death to create empathy in Rainsford, making the struggle an external one, not simply an internal one. However, Rainsford uses internal skills and the ability to be both predator and prey to defeat Zaroff.
Although the authors both examine the nature of the conflict of good and evil, they appear to have different purposes. Hawthorne really questions what it means to be pious. The devil in his story says, "Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion of your race," and Hawthorne certainly seems to suggest that, by not embracing evil, Brown chose to be unhappy (Hawthorne, 1835). Connell appears to have a different purpose, and argues against a black and white interpretation of the human condition, suggesting, instead, that humans alternately play roles as predator and prey, which establishes empathy, not only for the hunted, but also for the hunter.
The stories have very different styles, and the authors use different techniques to communicate their themes. Both stories occur in nature, but Hawthorne brings the people from the community into nature and introduces the supernatural to represent evil. However, he also introduces the element of doubt, so that neither Brown nor the reader can be certain of what actually occurred. In contrast, Connell uses a very traditional adventure-writing approach to move his story along. He creates a tense atmosphere of suspense and puts the protagonist in a constant battle against nature and Zaroff. Connell does not have Rainsford engage in self-reflection; instead the reader is expected to see the changes in his character by watching his actions.
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