Bewildered in Salem: Speech Acts and Sexuality in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown”

· Issue 22 (2018)
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Abstract

This essay examines speech acts and sexuality in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” relying on Lacanian psychoanalysis, etymology, and speech act theory to identify how Brown acts as a split subject. While many scholars have taken a psychosexual approach to Hawthorne’s tale, critics still treat Brown’s voyage into the forest like a morality tale. This paper’s unique approach to the story focuses entirely on the passages before Brown departs from his home and after he returns from the forest, interpreting the man’s subsequent trauma as an internal bifurcation rather than a spiritual crisis. When examined side-by-side, the few paragraphs before and after Brown’s forest experience reveal a split in the main character, vis-à-vis his relationship to others’ speech. Specifically, an eventual fusion of sex and speech puts pressure on Brown’s reception of speech acts. This fusion grants Brown sexual productivity but traumatizes him in the process.

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