The theme of subconscious dreams, be it hopes and aspirations, or actual literal dreams, is examined in the two stories of Young Goodman Brown (1835), by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and in The Rocking Horse Winner (1926), by D.H. Lawrence. Both of these stories exhibit conflicts. Some conflict is internal to the main character. This inner personal conflict is due to outer conflict that inflicts pain upon the main character. Both stories have main characters who have a conflict with another primary character. These conflicts converge to create a climax, one that in both stories abolishes all possibility of redemption for the main character is permanently lost because of the realization of their subconscious dreams. In both stories, the dream is not a good one to be realized, because there is no “winner” in The Rocking Horse Winner, and there is no hope for Young Goodman Brown. Neither character is able to recover from slipping into their dream world; neither character is ever able to return to reality.
Internal character conflict
The internal character conflict is a result of the external character conflicts. In Young Goodman Brown, the internal conflict is one of societal appearances, versus the real intentions and motivations of that societal “appearance”. If anything, a theme for Young Goodman Brown would be that everyone has skeletons in their closet, and Brown discovers the moral skeletons in the closets of his community. The most damming revelation that Brown’s dream inspires is that he becomes disillusioned with his young bride, Faith. Her name is ironic because Brown essentially loses all his faith in humanity, religion, and in his wife, Faith. Brown’s internal character conflict is that he takes things at surface value, but then has a dream which provides him insight into the evil world of his seemingly “good” community.
The internal character conflict in The Rocking Horse Winner, is that Paul does not understand that money is not luck, and that luck is not life. The reason that there is no actual winner in this story is because Paul dies, still claiming that he is lucky. Although the family has gained a fortune, they have lost a son. Moreover, more than likely, after losing Paul, the mother and grandfather will become like Young Goodman Brown became in Young Goodman Brown. After becoming disillusioned with one’s dream, both character demise is inevitable.
These conflicts build tension in both tales, as the dreams become more pervasive. Paul, in Lawrence’s story, becomes less of a boy as he becomes hypnotized by the rocking horse. The frantic rocking seems to bring Paul divine inspiration about the horse races, but his family loses more of Paul each time they win a race. In Hawthorne, Brown’s tension rises the further he travels into the forest. His dream gets more intense until he and Faith are at a demonic alter. He cries out to her and never knows the answer, because he is forced to go back to life after his vision. From there on out, Brown is unable to be happy.
Conflict with other characters
The conflict that Brown has with Goody Cloyse, when he comes across her in the woods, is that he claims that she taught him his catechism, yet he witnesses her debauchery. In this manner, Brown admits to believing that just because Cloyse taught him something, it must have meant that she actually believed in it. Instead, he now sees that she is not a believer. Brown has conflict with Faith, because he forever after is married to a woman whom he cannot trust. He has lost his faith in everything. When Brown returns to town, he has lost faith in Deacon Gookin, and he ignores him. Brown becomes sullen and reclusive in the shadow of his vision. The loser is Brown, because whether his vision was true, or not, he believes his dream vision of a degenerative reality, rather than maintain his faith in the goodness that he has experienced.
In comparison, the little boy Paul has not lost his faith in everything, in fact he is disillusioned enough to hold on to his misconception of what luck is, because he proclaims that he is lucky as he dies. In Lawrence, the young boy perceives conflict between his mother and the house. The house is made out to be a character as it begs for money. Paul sets out on his doomed path because of the conflict between his house and the need for money. When Paul asks his mother about money and luck, he confuses the two with the term “lucre”. The term “lucre” is money that is earned dishonestly. Paul did not understand this term.
Climaxes which add to the conflict, no resolutions
These internal and external conflicts never resolve neither tale. Paul dies, and Brown dies, eventually. If this author had to lend sympathy to one of these characters, the winner would be Hawthorne’s character of Young Goodman Brown. Unlike Paul, who sadly dies, Brown lives miserably for a long time. At least Paul died happy, even if completely delusional. The differences between Brown’s death and Paul’s death are that Paul’s death is sad for his family, but is a relief for Paul. Brown’s extended life is dreary for everyone, and when he finally dies, it is a relief. Therefore, more misery is had in Young Goodman Brown than in The Rocking Horse Winner.
- Hawthorne, N. (1835). Young Goodman Brown. Mosses from an old manse (1846). Retrieved from: www.online-literature.com/
- Lawrence, D.H. (1926). The rocking-horse winner. Harpers Bizarre. Retrieved from: www.classicshorts.com/